Barcelona optimistic of turnaround after losing El Clasico
MADRID (AP) — Barcelona is using its latest setbacks in the Spanish league as extra motivation for the game Tuesday against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
After having its 39-game unbeaten streak halted by a loss to rival Real Madrid this weekend, Barcelona turns its focus to the European tournament trying to remain upbeat.
"For a long time we didn't know what it felt like losing," Luis Enrique said Monday. "I hope that it serves as motivation to help us start winning again, just like we had been doing in recent months. I'm optimistic."
Barcelona had been cruising all season, scoring with ease and rarely being threatened but its supremacy was put in doubt after enduring two consecutive games without a victory—a 2-2 draw at Villarreal and the 2-1 loss to Madrid.
"We enjoy these challenges," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said ahead of the match at the Camp Nou. "After a bad game, we all want to play again and give everything we have. Nobody has more confidence than we do right now."
It's the second time Barcelona and Atletico meet in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. The teams faced off in the 2013-14 season, when Atletico held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Camp Nou and won 1-0 in Madrid to advance to the semis. Diego Simeone's team eventually lost to Real Madrid in the final.
Atletico is coming off an emphatic 5-1 win over Real Betis in the Spanish league that left the club only six points behind Barcelona with seven rounds left.
"It will be even harder than it was on Saturday (against Real Madrid,)" Pique said. "Atletico is the second-best team in Spain if you look at the Spanish league."
Other things to watch on Tuesday:
Atletico Madrid is set for the return of defender Diego Godin after an absence of nearly three weeks because of a muscle injury.
Stefan Savic, Yannick Carrasco and Jose Maria Gimenez, who had been listed as doubtful, also made the trip to Barcelona and will likely be available to play.
"We are feeling strong," Atletico defender Juanfran Torres said. "We know that our chances rely on staying alive after the game at the Camp Nou. Then we can try to seal the deal at the (Vicente) Calderon."
The striking force of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will need to pick up the pace after being criticized by many following the loss to Real Madrid on Saturday. The trio has scored 107 goals this season but failed to impress against the rival.
"It's nothing to worry about," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. "When you least expect, they create chances and score goals. We are lucky to have them."
Atletico, meanwhile, will be counting on French striker Antoine Griezmann, who has scored six goals in his last seven matches with Atletico.
Lionel Messi has fared well when facing Atletico Madrid, scoring 25 goals in 28 games against the Spanish rival, including three hat tricks. No other player has scored more goals against Atletico.
The forward netted his 50th goal with Argentina in South American qualifying last week and now is one goal shy of the 500-goal mark in his career.
He hasn't found the net in two consecutive Spanish league games.
Luis Enrique and Diego Simeone have faced each other several times both as players and coaches, with Enrique holding an edge in their matchups from the bench.
Barcelona won all four Spanish league games against Atletico since Enrique took over the Catalan club after the 2013-14 season.
Simeone's Atletico won the two encounters when Enrique was in charge of Celta Vigo.