at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid – Barcelona will be boosted by the return of Neymar, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba for the visit of Atletico Madrid on Saturday in a match which will decide the La Liga title.
Pique has been sidelined since Barca last hosted Atletico on April 1, whilst Neymar and Alba have been out since their side's defeat 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 boss Gerardo Martino said on Friday.
“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.”
Barca need to beat Atletico to seal their fifth title in the past six seasons thanks to a better head-to-head record against Los Rojiblancos. However, the Catalans have not managed a win against Diego Simeone's men in five previous meetings this season.
A trait of all those games has been Barca's inability to get ahead at any stage and 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. Teams that have the style of play that Atletico do are more uncomfortable coming from behind, although against Chelsea they came back.
“For our style of play it is indispensable to go ahead because at times it can be difficult to have the same clarity as we have early in matches when you go behind. The necessity tomorrow is to win the game, but to do that scoring the first goal will be very important.”
Barca will also be lifted by the news on Friday that Lionel Messi has ended speculation over his future by agreeing an improved contract with the club.
However, the match is expected to be Martino's last in charge as former Barca player Luis Enrique has reportedly been lined up to replace the Argentinian.
Enrique announced on Friday that he will definitely leave Celta Vigo at the end of the season and Martino said winning the league wouldn't change his decision on whether to stay on next season.
“I have said all that I need to say on my future before. One result will not change the perspective.” – Sapa-AFP