Barcelona and Atletico Madrid fought it out at the Camp Nou in a 2-1 victory for the former, though by no means was it an easy victory for the reigning European Champions. The game was enticed to be a purely physical encounter, and it lived up to its expectations and then some in that regard.
It was Atleti who took the lead just 10 minutes into the game after making a great start during which they were given total control. Saúl, the young midfielder, beat Jordi Alba on the far sideline on the counter and put in a cross just as the ball was about to go out of play. Barca’s culpability in defence shone through again, leaving Koke wide open to caress the ball on the half-volley past the Chilean goalie Claudio Bravo.
Barca didn’t respond quite as fruitfully as their fans wanted them to, and were lucky not to concede one more during this dominant spell of Atleti. However, they did have one superb effort by Dani Alves on the volley blocked by Diego Godin. Otherwise, it would’ve most likely been a Goal of the Season contender.
After this somewhat disappointing period, however, Barcelona quickened up their passing and moved faster when on the ball. They also high-pressured Atletico like the away side were doing to them during the beginning stages of the game. This resulted in the brilliant build-up play that led to Lionel Messi’s goal, which was a display of sheer persistence from the Blaugrana.
After flurries of attacking plays were dismantled and destroyed inside the Atleti box, Mascherano retrieved the ball just outside the midfield circle. Then he made a pinpoint driven pass to Neymar, who was in an advanced position just inside the box and did brilliantly well to hold up the ball. The Brazilian then rolled the ball perfectly into the overlapping run made by Jordi Alba, who drove a pass as fierce as accurate into the path of Lionel Messi, who was allowed just a yard of space to receive the ball and bang it into the net with his first touch. A trademark Barcelona goal, in other words.
Barcelona did not stop there, but were rivaled equally on the counter by Atletico who showed why they were sharing the league’s top spot with the Catalan club. In the 37th minute, however, Barca made a play that shifted the entire momentum of the game. Dani Alves, Barcelona’s brilliant Brazilian right-back, performed an excellent through pass representative of his extra-terrestrial vision and the ability to execute with nothing less than sheer perfection. Suárez didn’t even need a first touch to control the ball, it was that good. He outmuscled his fellow countryman young Giménez out of the way, and nutmegged the keeper for the finish.
Right before the half was about to end, though, was the dirtiest moment a fan could ever expect to see in a football match. Messi received a pass from a teammate and right when he was about to go past Filipe Luís put the studs of his cleats to the knee of the Argentinian. The challenge was reckless, to say the least, and had the potential to end the career of the 5 time Ballon D’Or winner. There were no protestations from Diego Simeone as even he realized that Luís took it a bit too far.
After the half, surprisingly it was Atletico who started the better off of the two sides, and had an opportunity to nullify their deficit. Griezmann reacted to a cross when he was on his own in the box from a Ferreira Carrasco cross. Claudio Bravo was saved by his trailing legs, epitomizing that perhaps even Lady Luck was not on Atletico’s side today.
In the aftermath of that chance, Diego Godin lost his cool and went flying into a challenge with Luis Suárez, who did well to make sure that his countryman pays the most extreme price for his mistake. The game was in the hands of Barca from then on, and with 9 men, Atleti gave it their best shot, but never actually looked like getting back into the game.