Barcelona return to action this Wednesday for the start of the Copa del Rey semi-finals against Atlético Madrid. It's no surprise that the Blaugrana got the toughest part of the draw, but they come into this match in much better spirits in comparison to what we've seen from the team a month or two ago.
The Catalan giants are unbeaten in seven games and have just two losses in the last 20 games. January has been the month where the team finally looked good and cohesive, and we finally have encouraging signs from a talented squad that relied too much on its superstars instead of good collective performances.
The game against Real Betis was very disappointing, because it took a goal against for the team to wake up and play well. Still, they played well and scored two goals, but only one of them was given. We don't need to talk about that again.
The point is: the last 20 minutes against Betis were GOOD, just as good as the previous wins have been. Sunday's draw taught a clear lesson that it takes 90 minutes to win any game, regardless of the opponent.
When the opponent is Atletico Freaking Madrid, it'll probably take 180 minutes over two legs to win. The first half of a semi-final that feels like a final starts on Wednesday night. Focus, concentration, quality, luck, good referees: Barça will need it all against one of Europe's best teams.
Barcelona: Marc-André ter Stegen doesn't play Spanish Cup games, and Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Lucas Digne miss out through injury. The good news is the return of Rafinha Alcântara, who missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. The Brazilian always seems to get hurt at his best form, but the good news is he always gets to good form time and time again. Hopefully he can bring some spark of quality and individual brilliance against the Colchoneros.
Atlético Madrid: Diego Simeone is missing José Giménez in defense, but Stefan Savic will come in to play alongside Diego Godín, and that means Atléti's defense will be very difficult to break down, as always. They can defend well with 8-year-olds on the team. It's crazy.
Juanfran is discovering his best form as a midfielder instead of full-back, and one of the most underrated players in Spain is a dangerous man at his best (seriously). Ferreira Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann are crazy good and will probably force Jasper Cillessen into some great saves. This team is amazing.
Atlético Madrid: LWWDDD
Barcelona (4-3-3): Cillessen; Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Gomes; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Atlético (4-1-4-1): Moyá; Vrsaljko, Savic, Godín, Luís; Gabi; Juanfran, Saúl, Koke, Carrasco; Griezmann
Alright, I'm going to be optimistic: 2-2 draw. Yes, that's optimistic, because two away goals are gigantic. Or I'm just terrified of Atleti and I think a draw is a win at Calderón. Who knows.