PHOTO:AFPBarcelona will be without Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets once more as they face old foes Atletico Madrid in a fifth two-legged clash between the sides in four seasons with a place in the Copa del Rey final at stake on Wednesday.
The presence of the Spanish international duo was badly missed as Barca slipped further behind Real Madrid at the top of La Liga in a controversial 1-1 draw at Real Betis at the weekend.
Atletico have won only once in nine games against Barca in the three years since Luis Enrique took charge, but Los Rojiblancos have knocked Barca out of the Champions League in two of the past three seasons.
“They are always difficult to play against,” said Enrique on Tuesday.
“It will be a great atmosphere and it is a tie worthy of a semi-final.”
Barca got the better of Atletico 4-2 on aggregate in a bad-tempered tie when the sides last met in the Cup two seasons ago as the Catalans went on to win the treble.
And Enrique defended his decision to heavily rotate his squad during a demanding January if Barca are to have any chance of repeating that feat as they chase down Madrid in La Liga and face Paris Saint-Germain on their return to Champions League action on February 14.
“If I don’t rotate, we won’t get to February 15. Between injuries, suspensions and tiredness, there is no other way. I rotate or we don’t challenge in all competitions.”
Enrique has at least been able to recall midfielder Rafinha from injury to help cover the gaps left by Iniesta and Busquets.
However, the one area the Barca boss has been reluctant to rotate is up front and all three of the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar look set to start again at the Vicente Calderon.
– ‘Magical night’ –
Atletico are also looking to bounce back as they were outplayed and held 0-0 by Alaves in league action at the weekend to slip 10 points back of Real in fourth.
However, their last season at the Calderon could still be salvaged by Cup success and Fernando Torres called on the Atletico fans to create a “magical” atmosphere on one of the last big nights at the Calderon before moving to a new 67,000 capacity stadium next season.
“I am sure the Atletico fans will fill the Calderon and make us experience a magical night,” said the former Liverpool and Chelsea striker.
“The game on Wednesday ought to be our only concern and headache right know because we know how difficult the game against Barcelona will be, but we hope to get the win in front of our own fans.”
Atletico will be without the injured Jan Oblak and Jose Maria Gimenez, but captain Gabi will return after being suspended on Saturday.
Whoever goes through over the two legs will be huge favourites to win the Cup come May with Real Madrid’s conquerors Celta Vigo facing Alaves in the other semi-final.
Neither side have ever won the Copa del Rey with Alaves’ run to the last four equalling their best ever return, whilst Celta have been runners-up on three occasions.
Celta host the first leg on Thursday and will welcome back a host of first team regulars who were rested for Saturday’s 2-0 win at Leganes.
Copa del Rey semi-final, first leg
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (2000)
Celta Vigo v Alaves (2000)