Madrid — The Champions League will offer either Barcelona or
Atletico Madrid a spot in the semifinals and a boost in the Spanish league.
Atletico leads Barcelona by one point in the Spanish league
standings going into their fourth meeting of the season, with the three
previous results all draws.
Atletico will be leaning on its stingy defense and striker
Diego Costa in attack. But Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is scoring again as
the team looks to reach the semifinals for a record seventh straight season.
Lionel Messi is scoring again, and that is rubbing off on
The Argentina forward has scored 17 goals in 12 games to
take his season tally to 36 overall, and Messi is gaining steam at the perfect
moment for a Barcelona team that had been unusually erratic at times this
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is counting on his squad to
rally around its star player.
"It is very important that the players remember what
state we were in one week ago and how we are now," Martino said.
Barcelona and Atletico's matchup provides neutral fans with
a masterful dose of the midfield maestros that have left Spain at the summit of
world football, and will likely maintain it.
Xavi Hernandez has directed Barcelona and Spain's play for
more than a decade, with the 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder winning nearly
every trophy possible for club and country. Xavi has anointed Atletico
counterpart Koke — who assumes the same midfield duties for Atletico — as the
chosen one to lead the national team in the future.
"Koke is an extraordinary football player. He's got the
talent, he's got the physical strength, he is the football player of the
future," Xavi said. "He'll be the one pulling the strings for Spain's
national team over the next 10 years."
Koke's emergence coincides with Atletico's improbable
Spanish league run, with the 22-year-old Spain international nodding home the
winner in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao that allowed Atletico to
remain at the top of the table.
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