Atletico hosts Barcelona in titanic quarterfinal Copa clash
MADRID (AP) — Atletico Madrid and Barcelona fittingly have Wednesday in Spanish football all to themselves for the return leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal.
All eyes will be on Vicente Calderon Stadium, where visiting Barcelona bring a 1-0 advantage.
The other three return legs are on Thursday, when Espanyol takes a 3-1 lead into Sevilla, Villarreal goes to Getafe 1-0 up, and Athletic Bilbao and Malaga start without a goal yet.
Here are some things to know about the matches:
BARCELONA STREAK: After romping past Elche 6-0 in the league, Barcelona is on a six-match winning streak in all competitions, and still on course for a treble.
Coach Luis Enrique is expected to field a strong attacking lineup including Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez againt Atletico.
“I’m at my best moment with Barcelona,” Neymar says. “I carry on growing and having more to do at the club. I want titles and many more things.”
Last season, Barcelona lost in the Copa final to Real Madrid. Atletico knocked out Real in the previous round.
TO BENCH TORRES OR NOT: Atletico coach Diego Simeone has to decide whether to make the unpopular choice of benching striker Fernando Torres, who scored twice against Real, in favor of the in-form attacking duo of Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann.
Also, they will be without key defender Diego Godin, who is suspended.
Whatever Simeone’s decisions, the team back him.
“Everyone knows Simeone, and they know how he loves the games and how he prepares them — always to win,” defender Jose Maria Gimenez said. “That’s the energy he gives us, that winning energy.”
Atletico has won only two of its last five matches. It comes off a 3-1 win against crosstown rival Rayo Vallecano, but has lost its last two games against Barcelona.
EAGER FOR A COMEBACK: Eager to fill its Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium on Thursday, Sevilla exhorted its fans to support the team for what it called “another historic comeback,” and offered members tickets at 5 euros ($5.70).
Queues formed around the stadium on Monday.
Sevilla will be without defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, who has a ligament injury to his left ankle.
THREE IN A ROW: Athletic Bilbao and Malaga ought to be getting sick of each other: This will be their third consecutive game. Athletic drew 1-1 against Malaga at San Mames Stadium in the league at the weekend.
During the previous matches, both teams defended staunchly and tried to break their opponents down at set-pieces or on the counterattack.