analysis | 2016-04-06
Match Report: Barcelona 2:1 Atlético - The ocean versus the volcano
Barcelona had its hardest match of the season yet, and the win was as difficult as you'd expect
We’re going for the win, said Simeone before the match. And looking at they way he approached this match, he wasn’t kidding. Carrasco’s entrance instead of Augusto was a prove of that. Atlético knew that leaving the Camp Nou without scoring virtually meant losing the tie.
From the kickoff, Atlético pressed high in separated lines, leaving spaces on their own pitch. But the culés, lacking rhythm and continuity, did not take advantage of this. Without the ball, the colchoneros were lengthening Barcelona’s lines and troubling their build-up plays. With the ball, they moved it with purpose and in some phases they defended with the possession. Atlético’s dominance was complete even while pulling back in defense: a 4-4-2 formation with Koke alongside Gabi, Saúl on the right flank and Carrasco on the left one. Barcelona were stuck. Just like in the clash against Real Madrid, Alba and Alves were not deep in the wings and Messi was swamped in the central lane.
Even without possession, the rojiblancos were ruling over the clash and gave the feeling that at any moment they could find the precision needed in the last pass. And Koke with a through ball achieved it. He first gained Busquets’ position which caused Piqué to try to cover him. Torres’ move between the defensive line and his finish through ter Stegen’s legs gave Atlético their long craved goal. And it could’ve been worse for Barça because later in the game the German goalkeeper saved a Griezmann’s shot which would have meant the second goal and the end of the tie.
Fernando Torres was the main character of the match. He played well during 30 minutes, scored a key goal -his 11th in 15 games against Barcelona- but shortly after was off for a double yellow card. Two unnecessary and naive tackles in the midfield (first to Neymar and then to Busquets) sent him earlier to the locker room. From the 35th minute on, Atlético would play with 10 men.
With 11 against 10, Barcelona kept falling in despair without taking their time to build the plays, without moving the rival from one flank to the other, being too vertical in their passes… The Catalans first half resembled the minutes of bewilderment against Real Madrid. The first half came to a close and the culés had only shot at target once (Mascherano). Many people would blame the physical aspect for this but it’s not related to it. It’s about the game and in the second half we were able to confirm it.
Watching how the two squads began the second half, it looks like Simeone commanded his players to pressure Barcelona high up the pitch and Luis Enrique asked for bravery but also intelligence and patience. That was the only way the Blaugranas could overcome the situation. Messi made a bicycle kick which almost tied the scoresheet. Little by little, encouraged by the stadium, the culés regained their confidence. Alves and Alba provided width in the attack, Suárez nested in the goal area, Neymar moved around with freedom, Rakitic was mobile without the ball and Iniesta, Messi and Busquets were on playmaking duties. Atlético were cornered and Barcelona were deep with Messi and Iniesta as the decision-making leaders. In the first 25 minutes, they were a thunderstorm.
Simeone realized this and entered Augusto for Carrasco but the change of script was already a fact. Neymar hit the woodwork letting know the hurricane into what the local team was becoming in a symbiosis with the excited Camp Nou stands. But this passion was joined with the quickness in the ball circulation and patience, lots of patience which ended up producing good results for Barcelona. In one of those attacks, Messi found the fluidity required to open the ball to the right flank and Alves’ cross to the far post was picked up by Alba whose shot was sent to the back of the net by Suárez. Saúl put the Uruguayan onside. From right to left, disorganizing the rival in order to organize themselves, Barcelona was finding the formula to overcome the Atlético’s wall. As we said before, it wasn’t about the physical state, it was about the game.
Rafinha replaced Rakitic and by the 70th minute, Barcelona lost their momentum and Atlético were able to catch their breath. They were defending in their own area much less than before and they even were able to threat with their offensive transitions. But Luis Suárez once again stamped his seal with his performance. He received a pass from Messi with his back to the goal, opened the ball to the right band and nailed a thunderous header from Alves’ precise cross. In a previous action, battling with the young centre-back Lucas, Suárez smacked him deserving a straight red card.
Barcelona continued their dominance but with the 2-1 on the scoreboard and Iniesta’s replacement with Turan, the game rhythm reduced. Simeone tried to level the match with Thomas’ physique and punch but Atlético couldn’t get near ter Stegen’s area. The 2-1 was both positive and negative for the two contenders. Atlético were leaving the Camp Nou still with chances to advance, something that seemed unlikely in some phases of the second half but they were better in the first one. On Barcelona’s side, there was a lot of tension with the 0-1 and what’s worse they were lacking of his game style. But they could’ve scored a lot more goals and settled the stage.
Huge praise for this volcano named Atlético. They were able to pressure up high and defend in retreat, with Lucas as the centre-back and Koke in the double pivot. Simeone and their men are always competitive. He achieved to create doubts to Barcelona in the first half and despite not winning the possession battle, they dominated the clash. Torres’ ejection will be remarked in the headlines, but the tactical and psychological greatness of this squad will be remembered and valued in due time.
Seven consecutive wins for Barcelona against Atlético de Madrid, all of them with Luis Enrique at Barça’s helm. The Catalans found their way when they forsakened the individual adventures and played organized, as a team, by means of the ball. Under Iniesta’s leadership and Alves’ appearances in the right wing, the ocean faced the volcano and Barcelona found the right script to hurt Atlético the most. The masters of the football showed up at the right time.
With these two behemoths, each one with their style, there’s no doubt: the tie is still up for grabs.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Ismael Ledesma
Ismael Ledesma coordinates and writes at Martiperarnau.com. He also collaborates with the press department of UD Levante @LevanteUDDM and LevanteUDRadio.
TRANSLATED BY: Jaime Ibarra
Jaime is a chemical engineer from Venezuela who is passionate about football and Barça. He loves the club’s history and he has been an unconditional fan since Ronaldo “The Phenomenon” amazed the world with the Blaugrana colors.