La Liga: Atletico Madrid 1-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Denis Doyle

A recap of Barcelona's 2-1 win over Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Gabi (OG) were enough to secure the three points

FC Barcelona needed a little luck to seal the three points, but fought back from a goal deficit, and a man disadvantage to secure a 2-1 win against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. Falcao had put the hosts ahead on 51 minutes after a number of mistakes from the Barcelona defense, but Alexis Sánchez’ equaliser on 72 minutes and Gabi’s own goal on 80 minutes ensured that the points would go to the Blaugrana – even if Lionel Messi had been forced off through injury in the second-half.

Atletico

Barcelona

Possession

42%

58%

Total Shots

12

11

Shots on Target

2

3

Pass Accuracy

82%

90%

Fouls

18

11

Offsides

3

1

Yellow Cards

1

2

Red Cards

0

0

Even with the league title in the bag, Tito Vilanova went with a strong starting XI for tonight’s visit to Madrid as Lionel Messi returned from injury to make his first La Liga start in over a month. Messi was joined in attack by in-form Alexis Sánchez, and talented youngster Cristian Tello, while Cesc Fàbregas started in midfield alongside Andrés Iniesta and Alex Song. Adriano was preferred to Marc Bartra at centre-half and of course Jose Manuel Pinto started in goal as Victor Valdés missed out with a foot injury. Would the Blaugrana move one win closer to Real Madrid’s 100 point record, or would that dream end tonight at the hands of Atletico Madrid?

As one might have expected after last night’s events at Espanyol, neither side started the match with a particular sense of urgency – there was a real "end of season" feel at the Vicente Calderon. However, in spite of that, Barcelona started in their usual fashion, keeping the ball, chipping away at the Atleti defense, who were penned back in their own defensive third for the majority of the opening 15 minutes. Rather predictably though, it was the hosts who would register the first shot of the match.

All afternoon, and indeed all month, there have been rumours circulating that Falcao is on the verge of a move to newly-promoted Monaco, and could then leave Monaco in a year’s time for a switch to Real Madrid – or at least that’s how the story goes. Despite those rumours, Falcao continues to start for Atleti, and with good reason too. Simeone may be resigned to losing the Colombian this summer, but there’s no reason to lose his talents now – not against Barcelona, and certainly not with a Copa del Rey final on the horizon. There’s a reason why Falcao is so highly thought of in the football world, and he was looking to prove it again tonight; creating a chance out of nothing with wonderful movement, before forcing a save out of Pinto with eight minutes on the clock. It may have been a straight-forward stop for the veteran keeper, but it was also a warning sign from Falcao.

Lionel Messi responded with a shot of his own – a free-kick – but again, the keeper (this time Thibaut Courtois) had no trouble making the save. The Argentine then turned creator, finding the run of Cristian Tello with a superb through ball – only for the winger to be denied by a fantastic recovery challenge from Diego Godin. The Atletico defense has been in excellent form all season long, so it was no real surprise to see Godin made a terrific intervention, even against the speed of Tello.

Dani Alves was forced off with a little under five minutes remaining in the first-half (reportedly) with a back injury – prompting Tito Vilanova to reshuffle the backline. There was no Martin Montoya on the bench tonight, so Adriano shifted to the right-hand side of defense and Marc Bartra replaced Alves, taking Adriano’s place at the heart of defense. Despite that change, Atleti still couldn’t take control of the game, and in fact, Barcelona created the best chance of the half, as Alexis Sánchez picked out Tello, who came within inches of gifting the Blaugrana the lead with a trademark curling effort.

Few chances, no goals, and very little intensity in the first-half at the Vicente Calderon. Perhaps the second-half would provide a little entertainment?

For the opening 45 minutes, the makeshift Barcelona defense had held its own against the Atleti attack, restricting Falcao and company to just one shot on target; but when the opposing team has players as talented as the likes of Falcao and Adrian, sometimes one chance is all they need. With the Barcelona defense in shambles, Atletico capitalised on their first chance of the second-half to take the lead, as Falcao stabbed the ball past Pinto following a through-ball from Gabi.

Barcelona responded with a double change – Alex Song and Adriano were taken off for Sergio Busquets and David Villa respectively – as Tito looked to salvage something from this match. Unfortunately though, it appeared as though this wasn’t going to be Barcelona’s night. Not only had Alves been forced off through injury, but now Lionel Messi was struggling as well, and he took his place on the bench soon after Barça made their final substitution, meaning that the Blaugrana were going to have to finish this match with ten men.

No problem.

Alexis Sánchez had worked hard all game long on the right-hand side of attack, only to be foiled by a combination of good defending and poor passing – however, his hard work paid off eventually as Alexis exchanged passes with Cesc Fàbregas and poked the ball past Courtois in a similar fashion to Falcao’s opener. With a little under twenty minutes remaining at the Vicente Calderon, Barcelona were level – and thanks to Alexis’ fifth goal in his past six La Liga appearances, the Blaugrana had scored in their 27th successive away match: another new La Liga record.

And it was about to get worse for Atletico; Falcao was no longer on the field, having been withdrawn four minutes before Sánchez’ goal and even with a man advantage, they couldn’t find a way to threaten Pinto in the Barça goal. Maybe they had relaxed a little too much after Messi left the field of play, maybe the injury inspired Barcelona to raise their game; whatever it was, this match had been turned on its head as David Villa’s shot was inadvertently deflected into the back of the net by Gabi. It was a calamitous goal to concede – probably one we would expect to see at the other end of the field – but ultimately, it didn’t matter how the goal was scored, or who scored it; the only thing that mattered was the scoreline as Barcelona looked to be headed for their 29th victory of the season.

Atletico fought back, and could have claimed a point if not for an impressive save from Jose Manuel Pinto, who sprung to his right to deny Diego Costa an equaliser. It wasn’t the most impressive performance, but it was enough. Barcelona had won again, and were still on course for a record-breaking end to the season. Until next time, Visca el Barça!


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