FC Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has promised that his team will not hold back when they visit La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid for the first leg of their Spanish King’s Cup (Copa del Rey) semifinal on Wednesday.
“I expect a very complicated tie,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “They have always caused us problems. We have very clear what our aim is. We want to win our first game.”
He expected the usual battle of wits with his Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone.
“I don’t think Simeone or I will change our style,” he said. “They are a difficult rival for us just as we are for them.”
Barcelona will be without Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets once more in the fifth two-legged clash between the sides in four seasons .
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.
“Throughout the season, you have to overcome the absence of important players,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m going to make rotations in the games that I can.”
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. “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.”
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.
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.