Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic has urged his team-mates to remain calm as they approach Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Atletico Madrid in stuttering form.
A second-half brace from Luis Suarez allowed Barca to edge a bad-tempered first-leg 2-1 after Atleti goalscorer Fernando Torres was sent off for two bookings in quick succession.
That victory now stands within a slump of one point from a possible nine in La Liga, with Saturday’s 1-0 reverse at Real Sociedad following a Clasico loss to Real Madrid and 2-2 draw with Villarreal.
Atleti are now only three points behind Barca at the top of the table, but first have designs on ending their reign as European champions before attempting to topple them as kings of Spain.
The Catalan giants can at least reflect on a fine record against Diego Simeone’s side under their current boss, with Luis Enrique winning seven from seven ahead of his latest test at the Vicente Calderon.
Rakitic made his 100th Barcelona appearance as a substitute at the weekend and the former Sevilla man insists there are other reasons not to panic.
“We are still in the position that we want to be and we deserve that,” he told Canal Plus.
“I never like to swallow defeat but we may be a little but pleased with what has happened in general, if not with what is happening in games at this time.
“We will try to look forward and forget [the Sociedad] match. It was a defeat determined by small details. Sometimes the ball does not want to go into the net, But we have to keep looking ahead because we’ve performed well and were dominant.
“If we are not able to create chances, then we should be worried.
“We are all united like a big family. We have to stick with this mentality for the next match. We have no doubt.
“Sometimes you get something like a victory over Atletico – a special game like last week could be a boost.”
Torres misses out through suspension, having equalised in the 3-1 weekend win over Espanyol before star forward Antoine Griezmann and midfielder Koke got in on the act.
Koke was part of the side that dumped Barca out of the Champions League at this stage in 2013-14 before pipping them to the Liga title.
The prospect of a repeat suddenly appear more likely than when the draw was made and the Spain midfielder is in an understandably buoyant mood.
“It was a very important victory [over Espanyol] for Wednesday, the Calderon will be buzzing,” Koke said.
“We are up for it. The other day in Barcelona we couldn’t win due to circumstances but we believe we can turn it around.”
Neymar and Lionel Messi scored second-half goals to give Barcelona a 2-1 win in Madrid when the sides met in La Liga back in September – another occasion on which the banned Torres opened the scoring.
Key Opta stats:
– Of teams who won 2-1 at home in the first leg of Champions League knockout ties, 52 per cent have gone on to progress in the next round (11 from 21).
– Atletico Madrid have picked up five red cards in their past five competitive games against Barcelona, who have not had a single man dismissed during the same period.
– The last time Barcelona failed to score in the Champions League was in the 1-0 defeat that knocked them out at the Vicente Calderon in 2014.
– Atletico’s 12 goals in nine games is the lowest return of any Champions League quarter-finalist this season.
– Barcelona have only kept one clean sheet in 13 European matches against Spanish opposition.
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