BARCELONA FACE THE HEAT

The Economic Times - - Sports -

Barcelona can re­dress their stut­ter­ing do­mes­tic form by seal­ing their pas­sage to the Champions L e a g ue s e mi- f i n a l s when they visit Atletico Madrid on Wed­nes­day. Last sea­son's tre­ble win­ners Barca are in their worst run of form in La Liga since coach Luis En­rique took charge in Au­gust 2014, los­ing their last two games to Real Madrid and Real So­ciedad and draw­ing with Vil­lar­real.

Although those re­sults have seen their La Liga lead over sec­ond-placed Atletico cut to three points, Barca are still on track to be­come the first Span­ish team to win the tre­ble two years in a row, with the King's Cup fi­nal against Sevilla com­ing up next month.

The vis­i­tors take a 2-1 lead from the first leg into the re­turn match at the Vi­cente Calderon, Luis Suarez's dou­ble hav­ing can­celled out Fer­nando Tor­res' opener af­ter the for­mer Chelsea striker was sent off in the 35th minute.

"There's no time for apolo­gies or ex­cuses, we need re­sults. It's not the time to sink low and think that we're on a hor­ri­ble run," said Luis En­rique.

"There are rea­sons to be op­ti­mistic although the re­sults have not been what we want." Thomas Ver­mae­len is out and Rafinha doubt­ful due to in­jury but Barca top scorer Suarez re­turns af­ter the Uruguayan served a sus­pen­sion.

Luis En­rique is also likely to re­call Jordi Alba, An­dres Ini­esta and Ivan Rakitic af­ter start­ing them on the bench in the 1-0 de­feat by So­ciedad at the week­end.

The plan to rest those play­ers ahead of the trip to Madrid back­fired when 18-year-old Mikel Oiarz­a­bal headed So­ciedad in front in the fifth minute and Barca strug­gled to break down the op­po­si­tion for the re­main­der of the game.

De­spite hav­ing seven shots, Lionel Messi could not find a way through and the Ar­gen­tine tal­is­man has now gone 362 min­utes with­out scor­ing, his long­est drought with Barca since 2011.

Atletico are dream­ing of a re­peat of their 2014 quar­ter-fi­nal sec­ond leg against Barca when an early goal by Koke de­liv­ered a 1-0 win and 2-1 ag­gre­gate vic­tory.

"The sta­dium will be buzzing. I'm sure it's go­ing to be a great night," said mid­fielder Koke. "The other day we couldn't win be­cause of cir­cum­stances but at home we're go­ing to turn it around." Atletico de­fend­ers Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic are doubt­ful while Ti­ago Men­des is def­i­nitely out and Tor­res sus­pended fol­low­ing his dis­missal at the Nou Camp.

Lionel Messi hasn;t scored for 362 min­utes now

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