La Liga: FC Barcelona 4-1 Atletico Madrid: Match Review

It really was a sumptuous strike from Adriano - Jasper Juinen

A recap of Barcelona's stunning 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid, where goals from Lionel Messi (2), Adriano and Sergio Busquets cancelled out Falcao's opener and hand Barcelona a nine point lead at the top of La Liga

Barcelona produced the performance of the season so far to come from behind and annihilate second-placed Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou. Falcao put the visitors ahead with a delightful chip after nice work in midfield from Diego Costa, but Barcelona levelled almost immediately courtesy of a sensational strike from Adriano. Surprisingly enough, it was the Brazilian’s fifth league goal of the season. Barca took the lead on the stroke of half-time thanks to a composed finish from Sergio Busquets, and a second-half brace from Lionel Messi – who else – secured the three points and an emphatic 4-1 victory. With the win, the Blaugrana moved nine points clear at the top of La Liga, and a staggering thirteen points clear of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.

Barcelona

Atletico Madrid

Possession

75%

25%

Total Shots

11

8

Shots on Target

6

1

Pass Accuracy

92%

77%

Fouls

15

16

Offsides

1

2

Yellow Cards

1

1

Red Cards

0

0

Tito Vilanova made one change to the team that started in last week’s hard-fought 2-1 win over Real Betis as the injured Cesc Fàbregas was replaced by Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean has just one goal to his name this season, but impressed off the bench last weekend. Could Sánchez silence his critics by inspiring the Blaugrana to a crucial win in the toughest game of the season so far? Would Barcelona extend their lead at the top to nine points?

After Real Madrid slumped to a shock draw at home to Javier Aguirre’s Espanyol, you got the feeling this was going to be a pivotal week in the title race. A Barcelona win would all but rule Los Blancos out of the running, not to mention act as a hammer blow to Diego Simeone’s side, but an Atleti victory and the title race would take an interesting swerve. Atletico actually started as the better team as well, seemingly unfazed by their illustrious opposition, and it wasn’t long before Falcao announced his arrival at the Camp Nou, rattling the woodwork in the 9th minute with a terrific glancing header off Koke’s in-swinging cross.

Barcelona proceeded to settle into the game, and gradually started to exert control over possession at least, but they were not controlling the game. With a combination of pressure and fouls, Simeone’s side were disrupting Barcelona’s rhythm and were looking dangerous on the counter-attack. Adriano’s foul allowed Koke to take a quick free-kick from inside his own half and the young Spaniard did well to lift the ball over the Barça defense to find the run of Falcao, but the Colombian squandered a good chance by firing his shot wide of Valdés’ far post.

Unfortunately, the Blaugrana didn’t learn from that mistake and paid the ultimate price as a result. Lionel Messi got caught in possession, by Diego Costa of all people, and the Brazilian smartly passed the ball off to Falcao. El Tigre struck five last weekend against Deportivo, and has 16 to his name so far this La Liga season, so it was only a matter of time before he took one of his chances, skipping past Sergio Busquets, Falcao quickly closed in on goal and finished in style by lifting the ball over Valdés. It was a special goal, and one that handed Atleti a deserved lead. How would Barcelona respond?

It was the million dollar question after all. Barcelona have faced little in the way of a challenge thus far under Tito, and this was arguably the worst start to a league match in the Vilanova era, so just how would they respond?

I’ll tell you how: Barcelona responded like Champions.

Within five minutes, the Blaugrana levelled the match courtesy of an absolute golazo from Adriano Correia. The Brazilian has been a different player since Tito took over and once again, he created a goal out of nothing to get his team back on equal terms. Controlling Andrés Iniesta’s cross-field pass on a six-pence, Adriano cut inside from the right-hand side, past both Arda Turan and Filipe Luis to unleash a thunderbolt into the top-corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.

The goal lifted the home crowd off their seats, but more importantly, it looked to energize each Barcelona player. Now the Blaugrana were winning the 50-50 challenges, their passes were that little bit more accurate, that little bit quicker; and now Los Colchoneros were on the back-foot. Gerard Piqué had a shot saved by Courtois, Iniesta had an effort blocked; would they be able to hold out until half-time? The game was being played at a frenetic pace, and Atletico just couldn’t keep up. A corner kick was swung in by Xavi, and Simeone’s side just lost their composure. Twice they failed to clear their lines, and as a result the ball fell kindly to Sergio Busquets, who displayed great composure to evade the challenge of Suarez and fire the ball past Courtois to hand Barcelona the lead, right on the stroke of half-time. It may have taken Barcelona little over half an hour to find their feet in this game, but there was no question that they still deserved the half-time lead.

Cata Diaz replaced Filipe Luis who injured himself during the sequence of play that led to Busquets’ goal, which meant that Miranda had to move out to the left as a makeshift full-back. Soon after the break, Adrian replaced Mario Suarez as Simeone switched formation in a bid to change the game, but within minutes of Adrian’s arrival, Barcelona forced the Argentine coach into a rethink. Alexis Sánchez was the architect, bursting out of midfield to feed Lionel Messi, and whenever the Argentine has possession of the ball around the opposition area, you know there’s only one outcome. Curling the ball into the bottom corner of the net, it was Messi’s 89th goal of 2012 and his 24th league goal of the season. Should Leo continue at this rate, he will break his own record for goals scored in a single La Liga season – although what’s important is that each of his goals moves Barcelona one step closer to reclaiming their title.

The Blaugrana were now in complete control while at the other end of the field, starved of supply, El Tigre had lost his appetite. Atletico couldn’t get the ball off the league leaders and with the three points all but in the bag, Tito made a couple of changes. First, Thiago Alcântara replaced Alexis Sánchez, before David Villa replaced Pedro, who put in a rather ineffective on the right-hand side of attack. Andrés Iniesta nearly extended Barcelona’s lead with a little over 10 minutes left to play, but Courtois – who had conceded three without really playing badly – finally caught a lucky break to keep Iniesta’s shot at bay. However, Barcelona were not going to settle on their two-goal lead.

Credit to Diego Godin, who set up Messi beautifully with a wonderful back-heeled pass, but what about the finish? Lifting the ball over Courtois, Messi secured his sixth successive La Liga brace with his 25th La Liga goal of the season. And being brutally honest, Messi wasn’t even at his best tonight – not that it mattered. This was supposed to be a test. This was supposed to be the toughest game of the season so far but Barcelona made this 4-1 win look so unnervingly easy. Next up, Barcelona travel to face Real Valladolid in the final game of 2012, but until then, Visca el Barca!

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