Top two remaining sides faces off in the Vicente Calderon
The Catalan press dubbed it the ‘New Clasico’ when Atletico Madrid dumped holders Real out of the Copa del Rey to set up a date with Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Luis Enrique’s men will face Diego Simeone’s side for the ninth time in just under 18 months on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderon and they will look to seal a cup semi-final spot by holding on to a 1-0 advantage from last week’s first leg. It may not quite reach the levels of El Clasico but a tasty-looking cup classic lies in wait in the Spanish capital.
Barcelona’s six-game winning streak, including two victories over Simeone’s side in La Liga and last week’s cup clash at the Camp Nou, leaves them favourites for the victory but Atleti’s scintillating home form, which has seen them lose just once in all competitions so far this season, should see plenty backing them to turn the tie around and win at 47/20.
Away goals count in the Copa del Rey and that is why Barca boss Luis Enrique says his side will travel to the Vicente Calderon looking for the win and not just to defend a slender one-goal lead. With Lionel Messi, Neymar and former Liverpool man Luis Suarez expected to lead the line it will take a lot for an albeit-stubborn Atleti defence to keep their visitors from scoring.
Messi, at 9/2 to open the scoring and 13/10 to score anytime, has been in particularly lethal form in front of goal, ironically ever since rumours surfaced that he could be set for a move away from the Camp Nou following a 1-0 loss at Real Sociedad in which he remained on the bench and had a reported falling out with his manager.
The Argentine’s response has been emphatic, with eight goals and three assists in the five games he’s played in since then, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Deportivo.
Two of those goals also came against Atleti. He scored in the 3-1 Liga win at the Camp Nou and followed it up with a timely 85th-minute winner in the first leg of the cup that hands the Catalans the advantage.
If Messi’s top form was not enough, Brazilian Neymar, at 11/2 to open the scoring, twice found the back of the net in a 6-0 thrashing of Elche at the weekend and Suarez, also at 11/2 to break the deadlock, is expected to come back into the starting line-up after being rested on his 28th birthday on Saturday.
The Barca trio’s task will be made easier by the fact that Atleti’s influential centre-back Diego Godin will miss the game through suspension. The Uruguayan is crucial at the back but also in attack, scoring the goal against Barcelona that clinched the league title for Atleti last season.
Jose Gimenez will replace him alongside Miranda and odds of 17/2 are available for the 20-year-old to repeat his goalscoring heroics from the last round against Madrid and find the back of the net at anytime against Barcelona.
Simeone will sweat over the fitness of creative spark Koke, who will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness. The midfielder has carved out eight assists for Atleti in the league this season, twice as many as any of his team-mates, and his absence will be a blow. Raul Garcia will likely step in to a four-man midfield if Koke misses out.
Former Chelsea and Liverpool man Fernando Torres is set to get another opportunity to shine in the cup. The 30-year-old stunned city rivals Madrid with a brace at the Bernabeu in the last round to knock the holders out and he will be eager to repay the faith shown in him by Simeone by doing similar damage to Barca. The striker is 13/2 to open the scoring and 23/10 to score at anytime.
In-form Frenchman Antoine Griezmann is expected to start alongside Torres and his fine brace in the 3-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano at the weekend will send him into the game in confident mood. The former Real Sociedad man has 13 goals in all competitions this season and he is a tempting 7/1 to score first.
While Simeone and his men may have enjoyed the upper hand against their more illustrious neighbours from the Bernabeu in recent seasons the same cannot be said for Atleti’s success against the Catalans.
Barca are undefeated in 13 of their last 14 matches against Los Colchoneros in all competitions with the only loss coming at the Calderon in the Champions League last season. Atleti had the advantage of an away goal going into the game but Simeone has shown that he has the tactical nous to come through even the trickiest of situations.
A 1-0 win for the hosts offers odds of 31/4 and that result would also be the only one to take the tie to extra time. For that to happen odds of 27/4 are being offered and for it to go all the way to penalties after 90 minutes and extra time you can get odds of 10/1.
That only seven goals were scored across six meetings between the sides last season, and only one game finished in victory, the 1-0 home win for Atletico in the Champions League quarter-finals, shows how close games between the two sides have been in recent years.
The quarter-final second leg kicks off at 8pm UK time in the Vicente Calderón Stadium this evening.