Spanish league finale bank on players in goal search

Diego Costa available for Atletico Madrid while Barcelona search for the elusive early lead with Neymar and Gerard Pique making their way into the team, though not fully fit.
Atletico Madrid's Brazilian-born forward Diego Costa is available for Atletico Madrid. Curto de la Torre / AFP
Atletico Madrid's Brazilian-born forward Diego Costa is available for Atletico Madrid. Curto de la Torre / AFP

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said Diego Costa will definitely start his side’s Primera Liga title decider at Barcelona today after overcoming a hamstring injury.

Costa missed Atletico’s 1-1 draw with Malaga last weekend with the injury as the side missed the opportunity to seal their first title in 18 years.

The Spanish international, who has scored 36 goals in all competitions this season, returned to full training yesterday, and Simeone said he will be fit for the visit to Camp Nou.

“He is fine. Today he ended the training session again without any problems. Tomorrow he will play from the start,” the manager said.

Atletico can seal their 10th league championship with a draw, and have not lost in five meetings against Barcelona in three different competitions this season.

Simeone conceded he never believed Atletico would come this close to upsetting Barca and Real Madrid’s domination in Spain by potentially becoming the first side in 10 years outside of the top two to win the league.

“I never imagined a situation where at one point we were seven points ahead of Madrid and six in front of Barca, albeit they had games in hand,” he said.

“Even then, though, Barca never gave up and that is a very important value for them.

“We have two rivals who always compete to be where we are. Normally, they win all the time, but this year it hasn’t been like that.”

Barcelona have been lifted by the return of Neymar, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.

Pique has been sidelined since Barcelona last hosted Atletico on April 1 in the Uefa Champions League, while Neymar and Alba have been out since their side’s loss to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final a month ago.

“They are probably not in the best condition, but they don’t have to play the 90 minutes,” Barca coach Gerardo Martino said yesterday.

“I want to highlight, no matter what happens tomorrow, the effort and will they have shown to be ready to play this last match. The courage they have shown, for me, is a great thing for the group.”

A trait of Barca’s five winless games against Atletico this season has been their inability to get take a lead any stage. Martino said he shared midfielder Xavi Hernandez’s opinion that scoring the first goal will be the key to ending their winless streak against the Champions League finalists.

“I think I mentioned that before the first game against them in the Champions League,” Martino said. “Teams that have the style of play that Atletico do are more uncomfortable coming from behind, although against Chelsea, they came back.”

Published: May 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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