Torres relishing Barca showdown
FERNANDO Torres believes Atletico Madrid travelled to Barcelona today at just the right time after emphatically bouncing back with three wins over the past week. The showdown is the first major clash of the La Liga season, but despite their free-scoring form, both sides face the prospect of being cut adrift from league leaders Real Madrid even at this early stage.
“It’s a good time to visit Barcelona,” Torres said after netting twice in Atletico’s 5-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon on September 17.
“It seems like they are playing as we have become accustomed to. They are the most difficult opponent we have faced in the last few years without a doubt and we know how difficult it will be.
“But when you are winning and playing well it always gives you that little more confidence.”
Atletico scored 10 times and kept three clean sheets in seeing off Celta Vigo, PSV Eindhoven and Sporting in eight days.
However, they already trail city rivals Real by four points after disappointing draws against Alaves and Leganes to open the campaign.
“We just needed to find the goals because we have been consistent in the way we have played despite the two draws in the first two games,” added Torres.
“The team is confident and now we have the toughest game we have had until now.”
Despite dumping Barca out of the Champions League twice in the past three years, Atletico haven’t won at the Camp Nou since Torres scored twice in a 3-1 victory during his first stint at the club in 2006.
Barca also hit five at the weekend against newly promoted Leganes to back up their 7-0 hammering of Celtic in the Champions League with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scoring 10 times in their first two starts of the season together up front.
However, a shock home defeat to Alaves earlier this month leaves Luis Enrique’s men three points behind Real in the title race.
Both sides will make changes having rotated at the weekend.
Enrique will recall Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets, with the only doubt for the hosts whether Samuel Umtiti or Javier Mascherano accompanies Gerard Pique at the heart of the defence.
The rested Gabi and Juanfran are expected to return for Atletico in place of Nicolas Gaitan and Sime Vrsaljko.
Meanwhile, Real can extend their lead at the top and set a La Liga record with a 17th straight win at home to Villarreal today.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale missed the September 18 2-0 win at Espanyol due to illness and injury, respectively. However, both returned to training on September 19 and are expected to start.
The weekend victory saw Real set a new club record for consecutive league wins and match the 16 straight wins Barcelona managed under Pep Guardiola in 2010-11.
Villarreal, though, are unbeaten in the league this season as backto-back wins have taken the Yellow Submarine up to sixth after a tumultuous pre-season, with coach Marcelino sacked just days before the campaign got under way.
Atletico Madrid forward Fernando Torres takes a penalty shot against Real Sporting de Gijon on September 17. He scored, on Atletico’s way to a 5-0 victory.