It is their most important game of the season. A must-win and a “final”, as both the players and local press are calling it.
At 16.00 ET/22.00 CEST on Tuesday evening, FC Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and must overcome them in order to keep mutual, bitter rivals Real Madrid within reach in the title race.
Better than they had been in previous outings since the restart, Barça still switched off towards the end of their encounter with Celta Vigo on Saturday, which meant that Iago Aspas’ stunning, late free-kick sealed a 2-2 draw and put Setien’s men two points behind Zinedine Zidane’s once they beat Espanyol to close the weekend.
This time round, though, the under-fire coach, who is rumored to have lost control of the locker room, is benefitted by the returns from injury or suspension of some key players.
Between the sticks as always, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen looks to resume a run of clean sheets which saw him put together a career-best five until letting a pair of goals in at the Estadio de Balaídos.
Along the back line, Jordi Alba occupies the left back slot joined by Clement Lenglet, in place of Samuel Umtiti, Gerard Pique and Nelson Semedo – though Sergi Roberto is fit again.
In the midfield, Sergio Busquets’ availability means Ivan Rakitic is dropped from his stand-in pivot role, while the shining Riqui Puig and Arturo Vidal form a partnership in front of the Spanish veteran.
Officially announced as having been signed by Juventus on Monday, Arthur Melo still makes the bench and has apparently promised to give his all until switching to Turin later in the summer.
Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite still left out in the cold, La Masia pearl Ansu Fati forms an attacking trident with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
“It’s true that the matches against Atletico Madrid are tremendously difficult,” remarked Setien at his prematch press conference yesterday.
The visitors perhaps boasting a psychological edge over Barça following a Spanish Super Cup semi final win in January, which saw Setien replace the fired Ernesto Valverde in the hotseat, he also described them as “a great team, with a strong identity and way of playing.”
“They will make things difficult for us. But I think that all the matches are as important as this one,” it was concluded, by a figure tipped to also be out of a job should he fail to clinch La Liga or the Champions League.