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 Posted by Dermot Corrigan
Mar 31, 2014

Pressure is on Atletico, says Martino

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino gives his assessment of upcoming clash with local rivals Espanyol.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admits that Atletico Madrid have tested his team in their three meetings so far this season, but says that Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg at the Camp Nou will be another game entirely.

Lionel Messi could not break the deadlock for Barcelona.
Barcelona trail Atletico Madrid by a single point in La Liga with seven games left to play.

• Ledwith: Messi caps great week
• Tomas: The future of Barca

Los Blaugranas and Los Rojiblancos have been unable to find a way past each other so far during the 2013-14 campaign, with three draws and just two goals highlighting the competitive nature of the games.

The Blaugrana coach told reporters at his official pregame news conference that these matches had been very evenly fought battles, but the level of pressure on Diego Simeone's side in the midweek meeting would be much higher.

"You can see [Atletico] are very strong," Martino said. "In the three games against them they have showed they are a very difficult opponent.

"The difference now is the stage of the competition. This is a Champions League quarterfinal."

Martino said if his players could match the "intensity" of their opponents, and not lose the ball in dangerous areas, then their better individual quality should decide the tie.

"The secret of the game, and all games against Atletico Madrid, is to match their intensity," he continued.

"But our weapon is to be Barcelona. We need to match their intensity, and then play our game. I do not expect it to be very open.

"We must be very careful when we lose the ball and [not allow] spaces into which Atletico can counter. We must always be aware of what the rival can do.

"But we must never forget we are Barcelona and first think about what our team can do."

In team news, Pedro Rodriguez missed Barca's training session on Sunday with gastroenteritis, but returned to practice on Monday morning. Alex Song is also available after recovering from a minor calf injury.

Both are expected to be on the bench against Atletico, with Martino likely to again pack his midfield and play Neymar up front alongside Lionel Messi.

The Argentina international said he was aware that this narrow shape could allow opponents to attack Barca down the wings, but that was a risk he thought worth taking.

"[Andres] Iniesta likes much more to play in midfield than on the wing," Martino said. "And Neymar prefers to play on left than right. But they play for the team.

"We knew Man City attacked well through full-backs, the same with Real Madrid. Sometimes you know the rival can do you damage, but you can also hurt them on the break.

"We are not going to change our team because of what our opponent can do."

Martino finally allowed himself a moment of self-congratulation when asked if his rotation policy -- which was criticised earlier this season -- was now paying off, with Barca in the hunt for the Champions League, Copa del Rey and La Liga treble.

"Xavi Hernandez is coming to the end of the season in good form," he said. "Which means the rotation has gone well. Which means I have done well, something I never say. But it is the truth."

Barca’s Spanish Supercopa ties against Atletico earlier this season finished 1-1 and 0-0, with January's league clash at the Estadio Vicente Calderon bringing another goalless draw.

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