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Copa del Rey: FC Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid: Team News, Match Preview

Can the Blaugrana make it to their first final of 2016-17?

Atletico Madrid v FC Barcelona - Copa Del Rey Semi-final: First Leg Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

FC Barcelona will be looking to progress to their first final of 2016-17 tomorrow evening when they welcome Atletico Madrid to the Camp Nou for the second-leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. The Blaugrana hold a narrow 2-1 advantage after a tightly-contested first-leg at the Vicente Calderon, and as such they are considered the favourites to progress to the final; however, if history has taught us anything, it is that we should not count out Diego Simeone’s Atleti in knockout football.

The Argentine is an astute tactician, and his side is stacked with world-class talent, all of whom are ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team. Simeone’s ability to extract the very best out of his players on a consistent basis is what makes him arguably the best coach in world football; while his side haven’t been at their best thus far this season, they too remain just 90 minutes away from progressing to the final, a fact that Cholo is sure to be emphasising to his players.

However, rather than focus on the visitors, and the kind of challenge that Atleti bring to the table, I’d like to use this space to reflect on our beloved Barça. This season has been a roller-coaster ride, and we’re not even two-thirds of the way through the journey. For every moment of sensational brilliance, there has often been a moment to forget. Every dominant victory seems to be overshadowed by a slip-up; for every 7-0 against Celtic, there’s a 1-2 defeat to Alaves and for some Culés, this erratic form has been difficult to digest.

Seldom have the calls for Luis Enrique’s head been louder than they were earlier this season, and this typically volatile fanbase has been particularly impetuous in recent months. Rarely does a week pass without Enrique, a recent signing or a long-standing squad member being labelled as a fraud; the atmosphere on social media and sometimes on fan-run websites just like this one has been toxic. Division and conflict has been the name of the game; you’re either with Luis Enrique, or you’re against him – and both parties are often one tweet away from mobilising like splinter groups of guerrilla troops.

This animosity, this division… admittedly it’s nothing new. We’ve seen this before in modern football, and we’ve seen this before at FC Barcelona – most recently with the Presidential elections – but to this extent? Team selection is scrutinised to the nth degree before matches even kick-off; it didn’t matter that his side were about to record a comfortable victory over Athletic Bilbao, Luis Enrique was still criticised for his rotations this past weekend and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week for example; Barcelona travelled to the Vicente Calderon in the first-leg of two-legged knockout tie. Away goals are crucial, and Enrique’s side not only grabbed two of them, but they won the match outright against one of the best sides of this generation. Yet, the manner in which Atletico fought their way back into the tie in the second-half was unacceptable to some, so of course, Enrique and the team were criticised.

The negativity is quickly becoming a cancer for our fanbase, and our beloved club. As Luis Enrique continues to negotiate over an extension to his current deal, it is apparent now more than ever that despite his steely exterior, the strain of dealing with this ongoing criticism is weighing on Enrique’s mind. Pep Guardiola took a sabbatical to recharge after his stint with the club and now we appear to be close to pushing away another one of our most successful coaches, and for what?

In his two and a half seasons at the club, Luis Enrique has steered this team to eight trophies, with a further three up for grabs this season. In knockout competition, he has guided this team to the final and eventual glory on all but one occasion, and he’s just 90 minutes away from extending that run tomorrow, coincidentally by exercising the demons of last April’s elimination at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

The combination of this side and this manager is the only one in the past 60 years to record back-to-back domestic doubles in Spain; I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that this combination is only the second in Spanish football history to achieve the treble – and yet there are some fans who still feel entitled to criticise just because Jeremy Mathieu starts at left-back in a match that Barcelona will win 3-0?

Irrespective of whether you notice it or not, we are witnessing history in Catalunya and as kick-off draws closer tomorrow, I’m not going to be analysing Enrique’s selection, nor am I going to be suggest how the team should approach this game. Instead, as I print off my ticket and prepare for a long trip to the upper tier of the Camp Nou, I’d like to give thanks to Luis Enrique and to this squad – as well as remind the Culés reading that win, draw or lose, remember the mantra: tots units fem força.


Barcelona: WWWDWW

Atletico: WDDDLW


Atletico Madrid 1-2 FC Barcelona – 1st February 2017 – Copa del Rey


Barcelona (4-3-3): Cillessen; Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Gomes; Messi, Suarez, Arda

Atletico (4-2-3-1): Moya; Juanfran, Godin, Savic, Filipe; Saul, Gabi; Koke, Carrasco; Torres, Griezmann


Onto the final. 2-1 again.

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