Friday 17 November 2017

Iniesta banking on his lucky charm to slay Barca's bogey team in landmark game

Andres Iniesta of Barcelona
Andres Iniesta of Barcelona

Pete Jenson

ANDRES Iniesta plays his 500th game for Barcelona tonight, hoping to relive one of his greatest career moments: scoring in the last minute at Stamford Bridge to beat Chelsea and reach the 2009 Champions League final.

Barcelona will need Iniesta's magic touch more than ever; they have failed to beat Atletico Madrid in four attempts so far this season, scoring only twice, and a 0-0 scoreline after 120 minutes would send the home team through on away goals after the first leg finished 1-1 at the Nou Camp.

"This game has something of the Chelsea semi-final about it," said Iniesta. "They are similar rivals who close down the space on the pitch and make it very uncomfortable for the opposition."

The Barcelona midfielder, who was outstanding in the first leg, has scored only 50 goals in those 499 games, but Barcelona have never lost when he has found the net.

"I hope that record continues, but I also hope that things go well enough not to need a last-minute goal as we did in London," he said.

Barcelona's failure to beat Atletico Madrid in the four matches this season have all come with Lionel Messi failing to score past Chelsea's on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. No one has conceded fewer goals in the Champions League than the Belgian 'keeper, who also has the best record in La Liga.

Although their defensive strength is not in question, Atletico's staying power has been doubted in recent weeks. If there was a team for whom Jose Mourinho's "small horse" tag is appropriate then it would be Atletico Madrid, whose squad has nowhere near the depth of their domestic rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Of the 10 players who have played most minutes this season in Spain, seven of them are Atletico players. One of those is Diego Costa, who started the first leg but came off midway through the first half and is doubtful for tonight's game. He was listed in the squad Atletico coach Diego Simeone named last night, which did not include the injured Arda Turan.

"If he is out it's a big loss for them," said Xavi. "He gives them an out ball, and he works the central defenders so well because he is so quick and strong. He is a vital player."

Underlining the importance of Costa, Simeone, said: "He does for us what Ronaldo does for Madrid and Messi for Barcelona." Simeone added that he would play the striker if he was only 90pc fit.

"Barcelona are specialists in scoring goals," added the Argentinian coach. "They scored four just down the road from here." The reference was to Barcelona winning the recent league Clasico 4-3.

Iniesta scored in that win but has never netted in the Vicente Calderon stadium. With Barça facing Champions League elimination before the semi-finals for the first time in seven years, tonight would be a good time to get his first.

Meanwhile, faced with the question of what was the best chance Barcelona have of finally beating Atletico, at the fifth time of asking this season, Cesc Fabregas produced a response which showed that, despite a year in which Barca's usually pristine image has taken a battering, those inside the Catalan club still have an unshaken belief in what the team represent.

"We have to be very brave, and, more than ever, we need to be Barcelona," the former Arsenal midfielder said.

"We have to go out onto the pitch and be proud of what we are." (©Independent News Service)

ATLETICO MADRID V BARCELONA, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 2, 7.45

Irish Independent

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