With his side having righted themselves after a recent wobble, Daniel Alves feels FC Barcelona's UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Club Atlético de Madrid is coming at the right time.
The top two in the Spanish Liga meet in Catalonia in Tuesday's first leg with Gerardo Martino's team on a five-game winning streak in all competitions, after losses at Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Real Valladolid CF in the space of three Liga fixtures had some doubting their resilience. "This is our best spell of the season and this is the month when it is all decided," said the Brazilian international ahead of Atlético's visit.
The 30-year-old drew some criticism for turning on the Camp Nou crowd during Barcelona's dry patch, yet he stood by his words as he demanded another push from the terraces. "When there's a connection, the results are good," he said. "If we're not united, we won't achieve our objectives. To enjoy success, the fans have to cheer the team on at Camp Nou. That's the way I see it and I stand by it.
"This team never holds anything back," the former Sevilla FC right-back continued. "People always find something to criticise. We will try to improve at the back of course, but we try to be different to the rest. We want to be a team that influences football, that influences children to take a risk in sport. That's what's put us at the top for five years. When we win titles we're wonderful, and when we concede goals [people say] we're a disaster, but anyway we'll keep going."
Alves also moved to defend countryman Neymar – "you have to value the player's work, not how much he is being paid or how much he cost" – and was eager for his side to approach the Atlético tie with clear heads. "Atletico and Barcelona are very close at the top of the Liga but at some point that will have to change," he explained, with Barça currently one point behind leaders Atleti. "We're ready for them and I hope we can take a giant step towards the semi-finals."
With 25 Liga goals this term, Diego Costa has emerged as Atlético's danger man – and has certainly done enough to earn Alves's respect. "Diego Costa is an incredible player, not just because of his goals but because of the way he works," he said. "I think this is a difficult match but not just because of Diego Costa. He's an important player for them, but Atlético are about a lot more than Costa. They are a very intense team and we have to control that aspect of them."
Reining in that intensity may be the key to victory. "We have to play a very fluid game, with no breaks and plenty of possession," Alves said. "If we have the ball, Atlético will hardly have any chances – that's the way forward and the only way to reach the semi-finals. Have possession and take your chances." He went on: "You have to fight to achieve things. That's why I won't settle for a draw – I play to win. We only ever play to win."
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