Madrid, Jan 10 (IANS) FC Barcelona coach Luis Enrique faces another trial by football when his side entertains Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou Stadium Sunday night.
Despite the public backing of Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu Wednesday, there is little doubt Luis Enrique’s future is still on the line as a result of his side’s defeat in San Sebastian a week ago and doubts over his relationship with Lionel Messi, reports Xinhua.
Although Barcelona’ s 5-0 win over Elche in the Kings Cup Thursday took some pressure off, the game was played in front of the lowest crowd on the season, with just 27,000 supporters in the stands.
Those present showed a division of opinion with some chants in favour of the former player and some boos against him.
One thing that was clear, however, is the overwhelming support for Messi, who scored two goals on the night and who will no doubt be in the starting 11 again Sunday, when the stands will be packed as Barcelona take on a side level on points with them and with their morale sky high.
Luis Enrique is without Xavi Hernandez, who has a muscle injury, but will bring defender Gerard Pique back into his side.
Atletico meanwhile have kicked off the new year in style, confirming the return of Fernando Torres and securing wins against Levante in the league and Real Madrid in the Kings Cup.
Now they return to the ground where they sealed last season’s league title with a 1-1 draw on the last day of the season and in the knowledge they have not lost to Barcelona in their last six meetings in all competitions.
Diego Simeone’ s side will once again base its play on organisation, effort, pace on the break and effectiveness from set pieces (something Barcelona have struggled to defend of late).
With Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic in form, Torres may or not start, but will remember his last appearance at the Camp Nou saw him score the goal that helped Chelsea qualify for the Champions League final.
It has been a tough week for Barcelona with the sacking of director of football Andoni Zubizarreta, the announcement of elections in the summer and doubts over Luis Enrique and Messi, Simeone knows that should his side take the lead the tense atmosphere in the stands will only serve to help his side’s cause.