For coach Luis Enrique, Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal decider against Atlético Madrid is the perfect opportunity for his Barcelona players to show that they are still the best. After a poor run of form in the last four games, the Blaugrana need to qualify for the semifinals.
The task couldn't be more difficult, as the Catalan giants head into the hostile environment of the Vicente Calderón to take one of the best defenses on the planet. Atlético scored a vital away goal in Barça's 2-1 last Tuesday, and they can afford to play safe and look for a lone qualifying goal.
If the first leg is any indication, Barça will need a fantastic performance just to find some space in the Colchoneros defense, let alone score and win the match. But the history is on Enrique's side: since he took over, the Treble winners have won all seven meetings against Simeone's squad, and remain favorites to advance to the semifinal.
But the losses in El Clásico two weeks ago and at the Anoeta stadium to Real Sociedad last Saturday have led to some serious questions about Barça's future this season. Many treat this Wednesday's clash as the biggest match of the season for Enrique and his players, but according to him, that is not the case.
"We are treating this like any quarter-final – I don't feel it's the biggest match of our season. We have a small advantage and we will try to win here too to make sure of the result. This team was made for matches like this. Yes, it's always difficult against Atlético, but it's all about doing things well, which is what we try to do every match. We'll need to play really well."
Luis Enrique, source: UEFA.com
During the recent slump, one player in particular has been a target of plenty of criticism from fans and analysts: midfielder Arda Turan, who made his debut in January, has had a monumental struggle to adapt to Barça's unique style, and his bad performances in the recent losses are a worrying indication that his signing was not ideal. But Enrique is not blaming the Turkish, preferring to look at the bigger picture.
"There is always room for improvement. It's not fair to think that victories or defeats are because of two or three players. I'm just as guilty for any defeats because I am the coach. I'm very happy with Arda Turan's performances."
For Wednesday, star defender Gerard Piqué is doubtful with a hip problem, but Lucho guaranteed his place in the starting lineup: "Piqué is just fine" was the short, simple answer when asked about his best center-back.
Enrique also reiterated a position he has had since joining the club: while he wants to see his team competing and winning, he wants to see success in style, Barça's style. He's expecting an entertaining, yet competitive match, and is looking forward to seeing his team handle the pressure from the Calderón crowd.
"Tomorrow will be difficult like any UEFA Champions League tie, particularly so against Atlético since they know us so well. There is no doubt we are going to compete. We love to see the Vicente Calderón full but if there's any team able to play in this atmosphere it is Barça. I hope we can see a great spectacle."
Wednesday is going to be so good.