Wed, Apr 09, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Atletico pray for Costa, Bayern bid to end skid

Reuters, BARCELONA, Spain

Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, battles Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on April 1 in England.

Photo: AFP

Atletico Madrid hope to have talismanic striker Diego Costa fit for their clash with Barcelona today, when the unexpected leaders of La Liga vie to pull off another surprise by reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

Costa has netted 33 goals for Diego Simeone’s side in a remarkable season for los Colchoneros, who have come out of the shadows of their more affluent rivals Real Madrid and Liga champions Barca.

They picked up a 1-1 draw in a typically hard-fought battle at the Camp Nou in the Champions League first leg last week that Costa limped out of with a hamstring strain.

His replacement, Diego, hit a stunning shot from distance to give Atletico a valuable away goal before Barca’s Neymar grabbed the draw.

Costa has been receiving intensive treatment to be ready for the home leg and is progressing well. However, with several crucial games ahead, Atletico’s medical staff are wary of him coming back too soon.

Arda Turan is also a doubt with a groin strain and if he does not recover then his place on the right wing would likely go to Diego, with Adrian Lopez likely replacing Costa.

Adrian came on as a substitute and looked lively during an otherwise tired Atletico display in a 1-0 league win over Villarreal on Saturday that kept them a point clear of Barca at the top.

Barcelona were also below their best at the weekend, but beat Real Betis Balompie 3-1 to stay on Atletico’s heels, with the two sides also set to clash at the Camp Nou on May 18 — the final day of La Liga.

The Catalan club’s main injury concerns are at the back, where Gerard Pique is missing with a hip injury, so Marc Bartra could again deputize as Carles Puyol is out for the long term.

Barca also have to finish the season with veteran goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, after Victor Valdes was ruled out with a knee injury.

In today’s other Champions clash, Bayern Munich’s longest winless run for three years and poor recent home record against English sides have suddenly made Manchester United’s task of going into the semi-finals look a lot less daunting than when the draw was made.

Defending champions Bayern will be without three key midfielders — including Bastian Schweinsteiger — for the second leg against the Devils, which is evenly poised after last week’s 1-1 draw.

Bayern have lost their air of invincibility since clinching the Bundesliga title against BSC Berlin on March 25 in record time as they have failed to win since then, drawing two and losing one of their past three games in all competitions.

It is the first time since March 2011 that Bayern have had a three-match winless run — a disconcerting statistic for a side more used to setting records for straight victories.

Another worry for Bayern is their failure to win any of their past four matches against English opposition at their Allianz Arena. That skid started with the 2012 Champions League final against Chelsea, who won on penalties, and was followed by defeats to Arsenal and Manchester City and, most recently, a 1-1 draw against Arsenal in the Champions League round-of-16 last month.

In addition, Bayern face a United who, after posting their most dismal Premier League season in recent memory, seem to be bouncing back, scoring four goals in each of their past two league victories.

Although United may be missing striker Wayne Rooney and winger Ashley Young through injury, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola is not taking the tie lightly, saying: “We’re in a final on Wednesday. It’s a matter of life and death.”

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