Barcelona/Madrid, Jun 30 (efe-epa).- Having dropped four points in the last three games, thus handing LaLiga’s top spot to arch rivals Real Madrid, Barcelona need to win at home against Atlético Madrid on Tuesday evening if they want to keep any realistic hopes of retaining the title alive.
Manager Quique Setién hastily dismissed rumors of a rift between coaching staff and players but simmering tensions are plain to see in the Catalan side.
Following their 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo, Luis Suárez pointed to the head coach as being responsible for the team’s poor results away from home, while during the water break in the second half, Lionel Messi walked away from a team talk led by Setién’s right-hand-man, Eder Sarabía.
“There are always controversies in life, and it’s normal for there to be differences (of opinion),” Setien told a press conference on Monday. “When you don’t win, the knives come out – that’s the nature of the game.
“The relationship we have with the squad is good. It’s true that in certain moments we don’t agree, but it’s not worth mentioning.”
Since the league restarted after the hiatus due to the coronavirus, the team has been unconvincing on the pitch, especially in the second half of matches. There is a general malcontent hovering over the defending champions — not good when you’re about to face one of the competition’s notoriously tough opponents.
Diego Simone’s Atlético are enjoying one of their most successful periods of the season. The team from the Spanish capital have tightened their grip on third place with four consecutive wins and even have room for error against Barcelona, given their four point lead over fourth-place Sevilla.
It could be Simeon’s chance to overturn a miserable record against Barcelona.
Atlético Madrid secured the 2013/14 league title at the Camp Nou with a draw, but in his 12 away games in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League and the Super Cup, the Argentine coach has perpetually failed to win (five draws, seven defeats).
Simeone has managed to beat Barcelona twice in the Champions League (1-0 in 2013/14 and 2-0 in 2015/6) and in the semi-finals of the Super Cup this year with a 2-3 victory in Saudi Arabia.
But in all 16 LaLiga ties with Simeone at the helm, Atlético have failed to beat Barcelona, making do with five draws and 11 defeats.
Buoyed by convincing performances in the last 12 league games, of which Atlético have won eight and drawn four (they’ve not lost since Real Madrid beat them 1-0 on 1 February), and having taken 13 of the 15 points up for grabs since the resumption of the league this month, the team have their tails up.
With the team cementing their position in third place in the domestic league, Simeone’s men will soon set their sights on the final eight of this year’s Champions League, which is to take place in Lisbon in a condensed format.
A silver lining for Setién will be the return of Sergio Busquets to the starting XI as well as Sergi Roberto, who has recovered from injury.
Antoine Griezmann is also due to return to the squad, relegating Ansu Fati to the bench.
At Atlético, Simeone has opted for a rotational approach to his squad and he will likely change things up from the last game against Alavés. Koke Resurrección, the captain, and defender Stefan Savic are both out due to suspensions, and Mario Hermoso is doubtful thanks to an injury he picked up in the last match.
Diego Costa and Marcos Llorente, two of the leading protagonists in Atlético’s return to form following the Covid-19 hiatus, will also be reincorporated into the starting lineup.
The possible lineups are as follow:
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Gerard Piqué, Clément Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal; Messi, Griezmann, Luis Suárez.
Atlético Madrid: Jan Oblak; Santiago Arias, José María Giménez, Mario Hermoso or Felipe, Renan Lodi; Marcos Llorente, Thomas Partey, Héctor Herrera, Saúl; Joao Félix y Diego Costa. EFE-EPA