MADRID | Xinhua | FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are both in La Liga action on Wednesday night in two matches that are vital to see who will qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Wednesday’s games, along with Real Madrid’s visit to Getafe on Thursday night, were postponed from the beginning of January due to their participation in the Spanish Supercup in Saudi Arabia.
Barcelona entertain Osasuna in a repeat of their Supercup semifinal, which Barcelona won by 2-0 in Riyadh, but Wednesday’s match is played in very different circumstances.
Xavi Hernandez dropped a bombshell after his side’s chaotic 5-3 defeat at home to Villarreal that he would step down as coach at the end of the season, and the first game since that news will test the atmosphere in the squad and in the stands.
The members of the Barcelona squad held a meeting without the coaching staff at the home of striker Robert Lewandowski on Monday, with the supposed aim of forging unity among the players, but there is no doubt the game comes at a bad time.
Speculation has already begun over Xavi’s successor and that won’t help a club that currently sits fourth in La Liga and needs results to ensure they will play in the Champions League next season.
Xavi is again hampered by a long injury list, with Sergi Roberto, Alejandro Balde, Raphinha, Gavi, Inigo Martinez, Marcos Alonso and Marc Andre Ter Stegen all injured, and he will again call on youngsters Hector Font and Pau Cubarsi to help cover for the absences.
Atletico Madrid have a packed fixture schedule and follow Wednesday’s game at home to Rayo Vallecano with a visit to play Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday.
The visit to the Bernabeu is followed by the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal at home to Athletic Bilbao, before Atletico turn their attention to a Champions League last-16 tie with Inter Milan.
Diego Simeone will have to juggle his squad carefully to avoid burnout and has already had one setback with Jose Gimenez suffering a hamstring injury, just as Caglar Soyuncu’s loan to Fenerbahce was confirmed.
Antoine Griezmann could start on the bench on Wednesday, along with Alvaro Morata, who suffered a knock to his thigh in Sunday’s win over Valencia, although the striker didn’t suffer any muscle damage. ■