Atletico tougher than Real Madrid, warns Gerard Pique

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique believes Atletico Madrid pose an even greater threat to his side than Real Madrid, who ended Barca’s 39-game unbeaten run in El Clasico on Saturday.

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.

“They don’t scare us, but they are having a 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.

SEE MORE: Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid predicted lineups and team news

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.”

SEE MORE: Schedule of Champions League games on US TV and live streaming

Atletico knocked Barca out at this stage of the competition two years ago on their way to the final.

However, Barca boss Luis Enrique has won all six of his meetings 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.

Simeone confirmed Fernando Torres will start up front for Atletico after scoring in a 5-1 rout of Real Betis on Saturday.

“I don’t think the Clasico will influence the game tomorrow,” said Simeone.

“We expect the best of Barcelona and playing at home they will go for it.

“We are optimistic, we are playing against a very strong team and we know it is difficult, but I believe a lot in my team.”

Atletico have received a huge boost with the news that inspirational centre-back Diego Godin will be fit to start after three weeks out with a hamstring injury.

“I feel 100 percent and I’m at the disposition of the coach for such an important game like tomorrow,” said the Uruguayan.

Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez are doubtful despite taking part in training on Monday, so 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez could partner Godin, faced with stopping Barca’s fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

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