Barca confidence not shaken by blip, insists Messi
Five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi insists Barcelona’s belief hasn’t been affected by a poor run of form as they travel to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday holding a precarious 2-1 first-leg lead in their Champions League quarter-final.
A run of just one point from their last three La Liga games has seen Atletico close to within three points of Barca at the top of La Liga.
“Our mindset remains the same,” Messi wrote on his official Facebook page.
“We work hard all year to have a chance of winning trophies at the end of the season. We continue to believe in ourselves.”
Barca remain on course to repeat their treble feat of last season and become the first side to retain the Champions League in the process.
However, the European champions also had luck on their side to ensure the narrowest of first-leg leads as Fernando Torres was sent off for two rash challenges before half-time at the Camp Nou, after firing Atletico into an early lead.
By contrast, Luis Suarez went unpunished despite aiming a kick at Juanfran and clashing with Filipe Luis off the ball.
Suarez went on to turn the game around with Barca’s two goals after the break to take his tally for the season to 45 in 45 games.
The Uruguayan’s presence was badly missed as Barca slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad, with the former Liverpool striker suspended.
And Suarez’s influence has turned the rivalry with Atletico on its head over the past two seasons as Barca have won the last seven meetings between the two.
However, Atletico previously enjoyed a six-game unbeaten run against the Catalans, including a 1-0 win at the Vicente Calderon to eliminate Barca at this stage of the competition two years ago.
“You always try and improve game-to-game against them,” Atletico boss Diego Simeone said on Tuesday.
“Within the characteristics we have we’ll look for the variations we can to cause them problems and, most importantly, win the game.”
And Simeone hopes his side can prey on slight faults in Barca’s game that have been punished in recent weeks by Real Madrid and Real Sociedad after a 39-game unbeaten run.
“In a scenario like tomorrow all that has happened in the past is forgotten at the start of the game,” said the Argentine.
“Then as the game develops certain situations may develop that are repeated (from previous games).”
Atletico will miss the on-form Torres, who has scored in his last three games, through suspension.
“We need to overcome the absence of Fernando and control a marvellous footballer like Suarez,” added Simeone.
“Fernando will offer us a lot between now and the end of the season, he has improved a lot in this final part of the season,” said Atletico captain Gabi.
“But Atletico have always overcome the absence of big players.”
Torres’s absence is likely to be the only change in the Atletico team from the first leg with Augusto Fernandez bolstering the midfield and Yannick Carrasco moving into a more advanced position.
Barca are set to be unchanged from the first meeting between the sides as Gerard Pique has shrugged off a hip injury to be included in Luis Enrique’s 19-man squad.