Slumping Barca must bounce back: Enrique – Bayern ready to take next step in CL with Pep

Atletico Madrid’s French forward Antoine Griezmann (left), vies with Barcelona’s Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano during the Champions League quarter-final second leg football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on April 13. (AFP)
Atletico Madrid’s French forward Antoine Griezmann (left), vies with Barcelona’s Argentinian defender Javier Mascherano during the Champions League quarter-final second leg football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on April 13. (AFP)

MADRID, April 14, (Agencies): Barcelona coach Luis Enrique admitted his side are suffering a slump in form after a third defeat in four games saw them dumped out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid.

Antoine Griezmann struck twice for Atletico in a 2-0 win Wednesday to seal their passage to the last four at Barcelona’s expense for the second time in three years, 3-2 on aggregate.

“It is clear that we are not in our best form, especially if you consider how we were playing before, but we need to lift ourselves,” said Enrique, whose side’s dreams of a treble were dashed.

Barca had gone 39 games without tasting defeat before losing back-to-back La Liga games to Real Madrid and Real Sociedad to leave Atletico also breathing down their necks just three points behind in the title race with six games remaining.

Enrique’s men will return to the Vicente Calderon in May for the Copa del Rey final and he insisted a league and Cup double would still mean a successful season despite missing the chance to become the first side to retain Europe’s top trophy since it became the Champions League in 1992.

“The team wanted to retain the title, it was one our objectives and excited every Barca fan, but it isn’t to be,” said Enrique.

“We are finding it much more difficult than normal to score goals and suffering defensively too. We all have to improve and I’m the first one in that regard,” he added.

“The objectives for Barcelona are always the highest possible. We should be proud that Barca are always favourites for everything.

“We understand that we have to accept defeat, we have other competitions coming up that we can win. For any coach in the world to win two titles is a successful season.”

Victory ended Atletico’s seven-game losing streak against Barca dating back to when the Madrid club sealed their La Liga title at the Camp Nou in 2014.

Diego Simeone’s men also reached the Champions League final that season before losing in heartbreaking fashion to local rivals Real Madrid in the final.

Real lie in wait once more along with Bayern Munich and Manchester City in Friday’s semi-final draw.

Simeone is determined Atletico’s journey towards a first Champions League title won’t end in the last four.

“I don’t have any thought for the semi-finals other than winning,” he said.

“We won’t have anything easy. City have incredible financial power and Real Madrid and Bayern are historic teams in this competition.

“For Atletico to be among the four best teams in Europe is an important step, but just that, because we want more.”

Griezmann was Atletico’s hero as he took his tally for the season to 29 in all competitions with a towering first-half header before sealing the tie from the penalty spot two minutes from time.

However, the Frenchman was quick to laud the collective effort of his side as they shut out Barca’s fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar for their 29th clean sheet of the season.

“Everyone works hard defensively and tactically we are nearly perfect,” said Griezmann.

“We are very happy tonight. I’m happy because I scored two goals and tomorrow we won’t talk about these two goals but the great effort of the team to be in the semi-finals.”

Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola is hoping his team can take the next step in the Champions League after booking a third consecutive semi-final spot under the Spaniard following Wednesday’s 3-2 aggregate win over Benfica.

Bayern have now made it to the semi-finals of Europe’s top club competition in five straight seasons but have not gone beyond that stage since Guardiola took over in 2013 following the Germans’ treble-winning season under his predecessor Jupp Heynckes.

Guardiola will be leaving to join Manchester City at the end of the season and is feeling the mounting pressure of delivering the European trophy as his team eye another treble.

“We are now where we have been in the past two seasons,” Guardiola said.

“We are in the last four of the Champions League and the German Cup. I hope this time we can take that extra step.”

Bayern, also closing in on a record-breaking fourth consecutive Bundesliga title with a seven-point advantage and five games left, are no strangers to European success, having won the Champions League in 2013 for their fifth European crown.

They also reached the final in 2010 and 2012 but have failed to do so under Guardiola, who won 14 titles including the Champions League in his four years at Barcelona.

“If you are in the last four in Europe then you definitely want more,” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm, who will be Germany’s all-time leader in Champions League appearances if he makes his 104th match in the competition next month.

“A fifth semi-final appearance in a row is unbelievable. Performance-wise we are on a very good level but are not done yet. We do not have any title in the bag yet but it looks good in all three competitions.”

Despite their run to the semi-finals where they will be drawn against Real Madrid, city rivals Atletico or Guardiola’s future club City, Bayern have looked less dominant in recent weeks.

Goals are a bit harder to come by while their defence is not as waterproof as earlier in the campaign.

They let in just three goals in their six group stage matches but have conceded double that amount in the two knockout rounds since then.

“Nothing is gifted to you,” said Bayern sports director Matthias Sammer. “Maybe we have been a bit away from our top level but we have a winner mentality. The team proved that against Benfica.”

 

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