International

Atletico out to hurt Barca

2015-01-09 10:09
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Koke (Atletico Madrid
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Koke (Atletico Madrid) battle it out. Photograph: Gerard Julien - Getty Images.

Madrid - Barcelona's new year has had anything but a happy start and things could get even worse on Sunday as the crisis-hit Catalan giants host in-form Atletico Madrid side at the Camp Nou.

A shock 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad last weekend after coach Luis Enrique had relegated nearly 300 million euros of talent, including Lionel Messi and Neymar, to the bench left Barca tied with Atletico one point adrift of leaders Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand their title rivals.

The unrest at the Camp Nou kicked into overdrive on Monday when sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked, his assistant and club legend Carles Puyol resigned and Messi then missed an open training session with the club's fans.

The Argentine sparked transfer rumours by then following Chelsea on the social networking site Instagram, whilst reports emerged that his relationship with Enrique is at breaking point.

On Wednesday, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu called early elections for the end of the season in response to the increasing pressure on his position, whilst insisting that Messi, who signed a contract until 2018 as recently as May, would remain in the Catalan capital.

Given the circumstances Atletico are probably the last opponents that Enrique's men would like the face this weekend as they bound into Barcelona on a wave of enthusiasm created by Fernando Torres's return to the club and a third win over Real Madrid this season on Wednesday.

Torres contributed little in his first appearance for Los Rojiblancos in over seven years, but did taste victory over Real for the first time as an Atletico player thanks to second-half goals from Raul Garcia and Jose Maria Gimenez.

The result was even more impressive as Atletico boss Diego Simeone had made seven changes to his side and Torres is expected to start on the bench as Mario Mandzukic, Koke, Arda Turan, Juanfran and Miguel Angel Moya return to the starting line-up.

 

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