Barcelona hosts Atletico in Copa del Rey quarterfinals
Jan. 20, 2015
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A matchup worthy of the final will knock out Barcelona or Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona hosts Atletico on Wednesday in the opening leg, less than two weeks after Lionel Messi ended a scoring drought for a 3-1 win in the league. That broke Atletico's streak of six games without losing to the Catalan club from last season, capped by a winner-take-all finale for the league crown at Camp Nou.
"Having won (our last meeting) doesn't influence what happens on the pitch, but emotionally it is a big boost for us coming after six games last season without a win against them," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
Atletico, however, arrives on firm footing after eliminating cup holder and crosstown rival Real Madrid in the round of 16.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone said the key to stopping Barcelona would be beating its defensive pressure.
"We are facing the best version of Barcelona," Simeone said. "I admire how much they have improved once they lose possession. It's key for them to react quickly to stop counterattacks. I won't guess what the result will be, but I know that each minute will be important."
Here are some things to know about this week's quarterfinals:
WHAT CRISIS?: Barcelona appeared to be on the verge of a breakdown before it last faced Atletico on Jan. 11 following a loss at Real Sociedad, the firing of its sports director, and club president Josep Bartomeu calling for early elections.
But since then it has roared to four straight lopsided wins by the combined score of 16-1.
Messi has been his usual amazing self, with five goals in that span — despite sitting out one match — including his 30th career hat trick for Barcelona at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
Luis Enrique said Barcelona would likely recover Xavi Hernandez from injury in time for the match.
THE BOY IS BACK: Fernando Torres' two goals to seal Atletico's elimination of Real proved that the 30-year-old striker, who once shone as Atletico's brightest rising talent, can make a strong contribution in his second stint at his boyhood club.
With his ability to work well in open space, Torres gives Simeone a third option in attack to combine with the bigger Mario Mandzukic and the quicker Antoine Griezmann.
V FOR VICTORY: Villarreal hosts Getafe also on Wednesday, with the winner meeting either Barcelona or Atletico in the semifinals.
Manager Marcelino Garcia has Villarreal playing both the most vibrant and the most consistent football in Spain.
Villarreal has risen into sixth place in the league and has reached the knockout rounds in the Europa League after not losing once in a 15-game span across all competitions.
BRUISED BILBAO: With 23 cups, Athletic Bilbao trails only Barcelona's 26 as all-time winners in the competition.
And Bilbao visits Malaga on Wednesday needing another strong performance in the cup with pressure increasing on coach Ernesto Valverde after the Basque side lost four of their last five matches.
SNEAKY SEVILLA: While Spain's top teams get most of the attention, Sevilla is quietly having an excellent campaign and positioning itself to fight for silverware.
Six points off the pace in the league with a game in hand against pacesetting Real, Sevilla is also opting to challenge for the cup as it visits Espanyol on Thursday.