Atletico Madrid come into the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against Barcelona on Tuesday high on confidence following a 2-1 win away to Athletic Bilbao that saw them maintain their position at the top of the league table.
Diego Simeone’s side went behind early on, but held their nerve to come back and take all three points with goals from Diego Costa and Koke. They have won each of their last six matches in all competitions and believe themselves capable of progressing to the final four at the expense of their domestic rivals.
“We know what our strengths are and what we have to do to win games,” defender Diego Godin stated in a pre-match press conference, as per Marca. “Of course, Barcelona are clear favourites going into this tie, but we know where our assets lie and how we can best use these against them.”
Godin forms part of a well-organised Atletico back four that currently boasts the best defensive record in La Liga. The defensive unit practically picks itself, with Juanfran, Miranda, Godin and Filipe Luis near ever-present throughout the campaign. “They hardly give you any chances,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi noted in a recent video interview for Atletico’s official website.
Indeed, Barcelona managed just two shots on target when the sides met in the league at the Vicente Calderon earlier this season, as per Squawka. In total, there have been just two goals in the three meetings between the sides this season.
Behind the back four, Thibaut Courtois continued his highly impressive season with another excellent performance in the win over Athletic Bilbao, his work including a superb point-blank save from Aritz Aduriz. The Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, is among the top goalkeepers in Europe.
Simeone has experimented with various tactical schemes in the build-up to Tuesday’s match, with the suspension of Raul Garcia opening up a spot in his starting XI that as many as four different players will be hopeful of filling.
Diego Ribas and Jose Sosa are the most likely options, as per AS, if Simeone elects to field the 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 hybrid that has been his side’s primary formation this season. David Villa, who scored against Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, is unlikely to start, with Simeone preferring a slightly more cautious approach for the away leg. Cristian Rodriguez could come into the team on the left of midfield if Simeone decides to switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Regardless of their exact alignment, it is certain that the majority of Atletico’s attacking hopes will be placed on the shoulders of three men: Arda Turan, Koke and Diego Costa. The former pair have nine goals and 16 assists to their collective credit in La Liga this season, while Costa, the spearhead of the Atletico attack, has scored 25 goals and provided three assists, all per WhoScored.com.
The naturalised Spaniard likes to drift out to the left and cut infield towards goal, and will look to exploit the space that will open up on the break when Barcelona right-back Daniel Alves moves forward. He is, as per Mundo Deportivo, just one goal away from equalling Vava’s club record of eight goals in a single European Cup/Champions League campaign.
Predicted Atletico Madrid XI: Thibaut Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis; Jose Sosa, Mario Suarez, Gabi, Koke; Arda Turan; Diego Costa