First goal vital against Atletico Madrid, says Barcelona boss
Gerardo Martino hoping Lionel Messi delivers
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino believes his side need to score first if they are to overcome Atletico Madrid at a fifth time of asking in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
La Liga’s top two sides have drawn in all four previous meetings this season, including a 1-1 tie in last week’s first leg at the Camp Nou.
Atletico’s stubborn defence has successfully limited Barca’s creative players in all four games and Martino believes forcing Diego Simeone’s men to take the initiative will be key to progressing to the semi-finals.
“Both teams know each other very well. I think both have played at a very high level in different styles, but what hasn’t happened is that Barcelona have gone in front,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“That is very important and even more so in this case. We will try to score first and that will allow us to manage the game in a different way.”
Barca’s only two goals in the four games against Atletico have come from Brazilian forward Neymar as four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has struggled to make an impression.
However, Martino insisted that, despite his stellar record, Messi offers Barca much more than just goals.
“Leo is so used to scoring in every game that when he goes four games without scoring against the same opposition it creates attention, but he is a decisive player for Barcelona in much more than scoring goals.
“We know that if we have Leo in top form we have a much better chance of making the semis.”
Cesc Fabregas is once again expected to start in a four-man midfield alongside Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta in support of Messi and Neymar.
And the former Arsenal captain believes Barca have to stick to their principles and keep possession to overcome Atletico’s resistance.
“It is true that they have a very defined style, they are very good at neutralising you, but they are also very good on the counter-attack so we want to have the ball even more and be a bit more cautious in our passes.
“I think we have the technique and players capable of turning the tie around, 90 minutes is a lot of time. We must be brave, attack, be solid and play the Barcelona way.”
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes and defender Gerard Pique remain Barcelona’s two key absentees through injury so Jose Manuel Pinto and Marc Bartra will continue to deputise in goal and at the heart of the defence respectively.
Atletico are one point clear of Barca in La Liga after last weekend’s games where Barca, with Messi among the scorers, beat Real Betis 3-1 and Atletico downed Villarreal 1-0 for their sixth straight league win.