Gabi leads Atlético by example

"This is the best time of our lives," said captain Gabi, hinting that his Club Atlético de Madrid team are hitting their peak as he rallied home fans for the visit of FC Barcelona.

Gabi on Tuesday ahead of the second leg
Gabi on Tuesday ahead of the second leg ©AFP/Getty Images

Above FC Barcelona in the Liga title race, Club Atlético de Madrid have every chance on Wednesday of definitively stopping what seemed at one point a likely march to a Blaugrana treble.

Having drawn their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg 1-1 at Camp Nou last week, Atlético can finish the job at the Vicente Calderón. Captain Gabi is looking to the stands for inspiration as his side bid to reach their first European Cup semi-final in 40 years, and ultimately add the trophy to the UEFA Europa League and European Cup Winners' Cup honours already in their cabinet.

"The fans will be very important for us," the 30-year-old midfielder said. "It's going to be a significant match in the club's history and we want our fans to enjoy it. We want to enjoy the moment, show passion as always and spread it to the people that support us. This is the best time of our lives."

There has been little let-up for Atlético of late, with the team having had just one midweek off over the past month, with Gabi ever-present during that time. However, he insisted: "We are not tired. We want to compete at our best level, to give our best. We want to finish the season like we started it. We made people believe in us and I think we are going to see the very best Atlético from now on."

Even so, they may have to hit their peak without forward Diego Costa, scorer of 25 Liga goals this term but a doubt after being injured at Barcelona. "Diego Costa is an ambitious player and he is only thinking about playing," Gabi maintained. "We must be careful because the decision about whether he plays could be crucial for the rest of our season. The coach will decide. Costa is as important to us as [Lionel] Messi is to Barcelona. If he can't play, we will do our best."

At 1-1, there is every chance this tie could go to what would be Atlético's first shoot-out since they overcame Levante UD on penalties in the Copa del Rey round of 32 on 12 December 2006, a game in which Gabi featured. Not that it's an eventuality Gabi has given much thought to.

"We haven't even thought about a penalty shoot-out," the former Real Zaragoza man said. "Practising for penalties is not much use given the pressure involved. The key for the match will be focusing for 90 minutes. It's not easy to stop players like theirs. We are looking to be as focused as possible in order to stop all of Barcelona's players. Our minds are not focused on drawing this game."