Barcelona: Atletico Madrid hope to have talismanic striker Diego Costa back fit against Barcelona on Wednesday when the La Liga leaders bid to pull off another Spanish surprise by reaching the Champions League semi-finals.
Spain’s Costa has hit 33 goals for Diego Simeone’s side in a remarkable season for Atletico, where they have come out of the shadows of their more affluent neighbours Real Madrid and La Liga champions Barca. They picked up a 1-1 draw in a typically hard-fought battle at the Camp Nou in the Champions League first leg last week, where Costa limped off with a hamstring strain in the first half.
His replacement Diego hit a stunning shot from distance to give Atletico a valuable away goal before Neymar grabbed a draw.
Costa has been receiving intensive treatment with the aim of being ready for the home leg and is progressing well. However, with further crucial games ahead, Atletico’s medical staff are wary of him coming back too soon and aggravating the injury.
Arda Turan is ruled out with a groin strain and his place on the right wing would likely go to Diego with Adrian Lopez possibly replacing Costa.
Adrian came on as a substitute and looked lively during an otherwise tired Atletico display in a 1-0 home win over Villarreal on Saturday that kept them a point clear of Barca at the top of the Spanish championship.
“I am prepared, we are all ready for when we have to play. Any opportunity in this team is important and you have to be ready to take it,” Adrian told reporters.
“It has been a great season so far and we are all pleased. We have done very well but we need to keep going game by game. Now we are up against Barcelona in the Champions League and we will play it as though it were a final.
“The first leg was a good result but the tie is very open still. We know what Barcelona are capable of doing and we will have to have a great performance if we are going to qualify for the semi-finals. We will have to fight from start to finish.”
Barcelona were also below their best but beat Real Betis 3-1 at the weekend with two more goals from Lionel Messi and remain on Atletico’s shoulders with the two sides also still to meet at the Camp Nou in La Liga.
The task for Barca will not be easy. With Atletico scoring the vital away goal in the 1-1 draw last week, it will mean Barca need to score at least once to progress to the semis. Their main injury concerns are at the back where Gerard Pique is missing with a hip injury so Marc Bartra could again deputise with Carles Puyol out long term.
Barca also have to finish the season with veteran goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto after Victor Valdes was ruled out with a knee ligament injury.
Barca, though, are not ready to throw in the towel. They are hoping that Messi will again turn out their saviour. Messi was held scoreless last Tuesday, as he has been now in his last five matches against Atletico, something the Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted was unusual. Still, Martino says he expects Messi to have a key role in deciding the outcome of the match.
“It is clear that Leo is used to scoring in almost every game,” Martino said. “So when he does not score for some games against someone it calls your attention. We want him to be decisive, and he can do that in many ways, not just by scoring goals.
“All opponents are very careful to try and minimise his participation in the game. If he is at his best tomorrow we have a better chance to progress.”