Atletico tougher than Real Madrid, warns Pique
Atletico travel to the Camp Nou on Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, but are also Barca’s closest challengers in La Liga as they sit six points behind the European champions with seven games to go in La Liga.
“They don’t scare us, but they are having an spectacular season. At the moment they are the second best team in Spain, as the league shows,” Pique said on Monday.
“It will be more difficult than Saturday because they are a team that sits deep and breaks well on the counter-attack.
“In the end it depends on us. If from the first minute we want the ball, move it quickly, the fans are with us like they were on Saturday, and it all comes together, I think we are almost unstoppable.”
Often keen to spice up the rivalry between Barca and Real Madrid, Pique had put the hosts in front at the weekend before goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game around.
Barca paid homage to legendary former player and coach Johan Cruyff before the game and Pique claimed the Dutch great’s legacy had been to turn the rivalry between Madrid and Barca around as the Catalans go in search of a second consecutive treble.
“We need to be confident in ourselves. If we talk about Cruyff, he arrived in 1988 (as coach) when I was one-year-old,” added Pique.
“When he arrived, beating Madrid saved Barcelona’s season, it was our goal. Now we are in 2016 and the roles have changed.”
Indeed, despite a first defeat in six months, Barca are still well-placed to repeat their treble feat as they also face Sevilla in the final of the Copa del Rey on May 22.
“The game on Saturday is forgotten. What concerns me is winning La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey,” Pique continued.
“Everything is well-set and I am convinced we are going to win. We lost a game, we congratulate them and move on. This team is capable of winning everything.
“We have all the ingredients to play a great game tomorrow.”
Barca boss Luis Enrique insisted he has “blind faith” in his players and his side’s style of play despite being consistently caught out by Real’s prowess on the counter-attack even when Barca were leading at the weekend.
Atletico knocked Barca out at this stage of the competition two years ago on their way to the final.
However, Enrique has won all six of his meetings as coach against Diego Simeone’s men since taking charge at the start of last season.
“Atletico Madrid are a top team with a clear style of play,” said Enrique.
“That is why they are where they are, competing with Barca and Madrid despite not having the same financial conditions.
“It doesn’t matter what happened on Saturday, they are an opponent that will make our lives difficult.”
Enrique is expected to make only one change with Marc-Andre ter Stegen replacing Claudio Bravo in goal.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone confirmed Fernando Torres will start up front for the visitors after scoring in a 5-1 rout of Real Betis on Saturday.
However, Atletico have big problems at the centre of their normally rock-solid defence.
Diego Godin is expected to shrug of a hamstring injury to start, but with Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez doubtful, 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez looks set to face Barca’s fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
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