Mark O’Haire’s Champions League Tips – Atletico Madrid v BarcelonaStats
Atletico v Barcelona
Barcelona are bidding to become the first back-to-back winners of the Champions League in 26 years whilst successfully defending their historic treble.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Wednesday 13th April 2016 (19.45), BT Sport Europe
Having claimed four Champions League titles in 10 seasons and reached the semi-finals in seven of their past eight campaigns, a 2-1 first leg victory over Atletico Madrid has put the Catalans in the driving seat.
Luis Enrique’s group are now 1/4 favourites to seal a place in the final four but the aura of invincibility that had surrounded the Blaugrana as recently as 10 days ago has begun to waver. Barcelona have picked up a solitary point from a possible nine in La Liga and were on the rocks during the first leg encounter at the Camp Nou.
Last Week’s Stats
Following the same pattern as their two league contests already this term, Atletico began the clash much the better, grabbed the early goal before losing their heads and seeing a player sent off. After Fernando Torres’ dismissal, Barcelona took a firm grip on the game and found two second-half goals.
Fifteen of Barca’s 21 shots arrived in the second-half as the Catalans made their man advantage count in another bad-tempered clash between the two teams. Ten cards were flashed in the first leg, meaning the past seven meetings have produced an astonishing 51 yellows and five reds. Another feisty fixture looks likely from the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday evening.
Atletico know what’s required. In the duo’s one and only previous European encounter, Los Colchoneros sneaked a second leg 1-0 win on home soil to seal a 2-1 aggregate victory at the quarter-final stage in 2014. It was the last time that Barcelona failed to score in Europe’s premier club competition.
The capital club failed to land an attempt on-target following Torres’ sending off last week and it’s true too, no side still in the competition has scored as few goals this season as Atletico’s 12 in nine games. But the hosts have hit a rich vein of form in front of goal recently, notching 11 in their previous four Calderon outings, and only firing blanks in three home fixtures all season.
Simeone’s Fighting Chance
The away goal is a major boost to the typically tenacious side and although Diego Simeone’s side have pocketed just one success in 19 against Barcelona, their strong record as hosts should at least give them a fighting chance of triumphing here.
Atleti have W11-D3-L1 in their last 15 Champions League games at the Calderon, keeping their sheets clean in 12 of the most recent 14. Go back further and Los Colchoneros have W23-D3-L2 in 28 when entertaining continental clashes. That’s mighty impressive, eh?
Antoine Griezmann and Koke were excellent in Saturday’s 3-1 win against Espanyol and although centre-half Jose Gimenez is out, Lucas Hernandez has proved a solid and able replacement alongside the ever-reliable Diego Godin in defence.
Simeone set up with a bold 4-3-3 in the first leg but is likely to revert to more of a 4-4-2 here with Augusto Fernandez coming into the centre of the park alongside skipper Gabi, Koke and Saul Niguez, allowing Griezmann to operate alongside “false nine” Yannick Carrasco – their pace against Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano could prove pivotal to Atletico’s hopes and dreams.
The four-man midfield will be set-up to destroy and strangle Barcelona’s supply line but the big question remains, can Simeone’s side stop the superstar front three from scoring? And when will Atletico go looking for the required goal?
I expect the hosts to start on the front foot – as they did in the 2014 second leg – and an early goal could throw this tie wide open. Atletico have shipped just seven goals at home in La Liga but have failed to keep their sheets clean across their last four fixtures and so it’s almost impossible to rule out a team led by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
The Barcelona trident are responsible for 44 of the Catalans’ 53 Champions League goals since last season (83%) and although Messi has gone 362 minutes without scoring in all competitions (his worst run for Barcelona in five years), could you oppose arguably the planet’s greatest ever player?
The Blaugrana have suffered back-to-back league defeats for the first time since November 2014 but Luis Enrique made five changes to his team on Saturday, knowing Wednesday’s match had the highest priority.
There’s been a suggestion that Barca have played with the handbrake on in an attempt to save themselves for the season’s conclusion and whilst they’ve not always been at their brilliant best, even in victory, they’ve never failed to score in Europe under Luis Enrique.
The visitors have W18-D2-L2 in Champions League games since the start of 2014/15, scoring in all 22. However, they’ve ‘only’ returned W14-D7-L4 on their travels this term and boast just three shutouts in 11 away days of late.
It’s a mighty tough encounter to call but Both Teams To Score seems the most sensible option to take at 4/5.
Both Teams To Score (4/5)
*Prices correct at time of publication