Barca aim to crank up pressure on Atletico after rousing cup comeback


Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman will hope Wednesday’s Copa del Rey comeback can inspire his team to close the gap in La Liga as they take on Real Betis on Sunday. 

Barca scored twice in the last four minutes against Granada to come from two goals down and force extra-time before winning 5-3 to reach the cup semi-finals. 

But they have work to do in La Liga, sitting level on points with Real Madrid but 10 behind Atletico, who also have a game in hand over their two chasing rivals. 

Koeman admitted last weekend Barcelona have to be “realistic” about their chances of lifting trophies this season and that the current squad “aren’t ready to win many things”. 

Yet he was more upbeat after his side’s rousing display in midweek. 

“These games and these results can help the spirit and strength of a team,” said Koeman. “We have fought in adversity and that’s what we have to do. These kinds of moments can be very important for this season.” 

After a turbulent few months, that saw Barcelona’s president resign and Lionel Messi try to leave, the players appear to be gaining some momentum under Koeman. 

They have won five league games on the bounce and have not lost since the start of December. 

After Betis this weekend, Barca face Alaves, Cadiz and Elche, all at home, when they will try to increase the pressure on Atletico Madrid. 

Atletico face Celta Vigo at home on Monday, when they will be without three key players, Joao Felix, Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco, who have all tested positive for coronavirus. Kieran Trippier is still serving his ban for breaking betting regulations. 

But in Luis Suarez, Atletico have the form player in the league, after the Uruguayan’s double against Cadiz last weekend took his goal tally to 14 for the season, two more than Messi. 

Atletico are looking for their ninth consecutive victory against Celta at the Wanda Metropolitano. 

“Every game is an important step towards reaching the goal we set ourselves at the beginning of the season,” said Diego Simeone last weekend. 

Before Atletico play on Monday, Real Madrid have the chance to close the gap, at least temporarily, by winning away at bottom club Huesca. 

Huesca will be coming in off the back of only their second victory of the season against Real Valladolid while Zinedine Zidane’s side have to bounce back after defeat by Levante. 

Sergio Ramos is still struggling with a knee problem while Eden Hazard is out after the club confirmed on Wednesday the Belgian has sustained a thigh injury. 

Fixtures (times GMT) 

Friday 

Alaves v Real Valladolid (2000) 

Saturday 

Levante v Granada (1300), Huesca v Real Madrid (1515), Elche v Villarreal (1730), Sevilla v Getafe (2000) 

Sunday 

Real Sociedad v Cadiz (1300), Athletic Bilbao v Valencia (1515), Osasuna v Eibar (1730), Real Betis v Barcelona (2000) 

Monday 

Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo

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