Lionel Messi endured some testing times with Barcelona last season, but he was back smiling in scoring two against Elche. Tim Stannard gives us his rundown...
After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
On Wednesday night, Barcelona supporters will be aching and drooling over the prospect of one of their strikers being committed enough to slam themselves into a post with brutal force to score, risking limb and even the World Cup in the process.
There must have been a certain amount of envy from the Culé collective at the numberous replays of Diego Costa nearly amputating his leg in Getafe to clinch Atlético's second in the victory that puts the Rojiblancos four points clear over Barcelona and three ahead of Real (four including head-to-head record). The act of determination and bloody-mindedness from the striker showed the dedication to the cause that lies at the heart of his team's DNA this season.
Costa's collision was in stark contrast to the dithering, listless nonsense that Barcelona served up against Granada, a continuation of the dithering, listless nonsense served up against Atlético Madrid a few days previously. Barcelona supporters will now be hoping furiously that there will be no more dithering, listless nonsense in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid in Valencia's Mestalla stadium.
The one hope of a rapid turnaround of some awful form that have seen Barcelona's hopes of a treble wither away is that the last time the Catalan club played properly was in the second league Clásico clash of the season, the epic 4-3 victory in the Santiago Bernábeu. However, what is more likely against a Real Madrid in fairly sprightly mood despite the ongoing absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, is that the dastardly opponents from the capital will put Barcelona to the sword to complete an anti-climactic campaign.
"If you analyse the season from day one to today, then a lot of difficult things have happened that have been difficult to deal with," admitted Andrés Iniesta ahead of the midweek crunch match. "But when things are bringing you down, you have to pick yourself up and carry on, you can't give up."
Although the league title race is clearly far from over for Barcelona, especially with a final face-off in the last round of the season in the offing, the pressure for a strong performance and some indication of pride is very much on the backs of the Barcelona players. "If Barcelona lose then a huge storm will engulf the Camp Nou which could end as a tsunami," was the grim warning from Josep Maria Casanovas, writing in local paper Sport.
Matters are a little less dramatic in Madrid, mainly because the final itself is not as meaningful. The showpiece occasion should have been another opportunity for Spain's Goliaths to slug it out for local dominance, but Atlético's relentless superiority in the league and Europe over both title rivals leaves the Copa del Rey almost as a commiseration cup. Indeed, the final could be another slap in the face to the title pretenders from the Santiago Bernabéu. Last season, Atlético Madrid rolled up at the ground of the enemy to defeat José Mourinho's side and kick off an outstanding run that is still continuing 12 months later.
Atlético's earlier knock-out to Real Madrid in the cup now looks rather timely with the Rojiblancos having a full week to recover ahead of the next league encounter, good news for a striker willing to risk a World Cup appearance for sake of one goal against Getafe. That kind of commitment is going to be demanded by Barcelona fans as their players attempt to prevent a barren campaign.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter here