Supercopa de España: Atletico Madrid 1-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

A recap of Barcelona's Supercopa de España first-leg draw with Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon, as a second-half away goal from Neymar secured a draw for the visiting Blaugrana

A second-half debut goal from €57 million summer signing Neymar secured a Supercopa de España first-leg draw for FC Barcelona, who will likely be content with a 1-1 draw after falling behind to an early goal from former-Barça star, David Villa in a match that may be remembered  by Barça supporters for Lionel Messi’s injury, depending on its severity. Despite starting the game, Messi was forced off at half-time with an alleged thigh problem.

Atletico Madrid

Barcelona

Possession

26%

74%

Total Shots

9

8

Shots on Target

3

4

Pass Accuracy

74%

90%

Fouls

20

15

Offsides

0

0

Yellow Cards

3

3

Red Cards

0

0

Gerardo Martino made two changes to the side that demolished Levante 7-0 on Sunday, replacing the suspended Adriano Correia with regular left-back, Jordi Alba – and somewhat surprisingly, leaving Man of the Match Cesc Fàbregas on the bench in favour of Andrés Iniesta. Admittedly, Iniesta is a fantastic player – one of the very best in the world in fact, but after his sensational performance in the heart of midfield, everyone expected Cesc to start again tonight. Then again, everyone was expecting to see Neymar start in attack, and the Brazilian was also sitting on the bench.

A couple of bold decisions from new coach Gerardo Martino – would they pay off for FC Barcelona?

Sporting their brand-new away kit, modelled on the senyera, Barcelona got tonight’s match underway at the Vicente Calderon, and were instantly penned back by a hard-working Atletico Madrid outfit. Pressing high up the field, Atleti nearly caught Sergio Busquets in possession – but had to make do with forcing an unwanted goal kick for the visitors, who soon recovered from this early scare to take a foothold in the game.

Establishing their usual passing rhythm, Barça calmly knocked the ball around midfield, looking to quiet the raucous crowd at the Calderon – as well as carve out a few chances against a typically-disciplined home side. And that’s exactly what they did, for a brief moment anyway. Lionel Messi’s diagonal lobbed through-ball found the run of Jordi Alba, and the Catalan full-back diverted the ball back to Pedro – it could have been a golden chance. It could have been the first goal, if only Pedro could have connected better.

Just imagine how quiet the home fans would have been after an early Barcelona goal, but no, it wasn’t to be – and the volatile crowd worked to Atleti’s advantage. A possible foul on Lionel Messi was overlooked, almost certainly as a result of the home advantage – and that was it, Atletico were away at break-neck speed on the counter-attack. David Villa got the ball rolling, playing an inch-perfect pass into space on the left-hand side for Turkish winger Arda Turan, who promptly returned the favour with a perfectly weighted cross, right onto El Guaje’s fabled right boot.

It was the right boot that had given Culés so much joy over the past few seasons. A spectacular curling effort against Real Madrid in this very competition, a crucial goal in the UEFA Champions League; and now this, a sensational volley that would leave a bitter taste in the mouth of every watching Culé. What might have been, if only the circumstances and the past had been different...

Of course, David Villa has no regrets – he was wheeling away to celebrate his first-ever goal for Atletico Madrid, much to the delight of his new fan-base.

After leading for 87+ minutes at the weekend against Levante, Barcelona were in an unusual position – trailing for the first-time in the Gerardo Martino reign, the pressure was now on them to do something. Create a chance, score a goal? Possession alone wasn’t going to cut it and let’s be honest, given the extreme scrutiny that Barça are under each day in the media, we could hardly wait for the second leg at the Camp Nou.

Yet, somehow, Atletico finished the first-half the stronger side. David Villa’s audacious effort from all of 45 yards nearly caught out Victor Valdés and it took a couple of excellent last-ditch challenges from both Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano to deny El Guaje and Diego Costa a chance at a second goal. Aside from a frustrated shot from Lionel Messi, Barcelona barely even got the ball near the Atletico Madrid goal, let alone tested Thiabut Courtois.

A goal down at the half, Gerardo Martino had a lot of issues to address – and it seemed to be just a matter of time before we would see Cesc Fàbregas and/or Neymar take to the field.

However, if Barcelona were to engineer a comeback, they would have to do it without their talismanic striker, Lionel Messi. Forced off at the interval with an as yet unspecified injury, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner was replaced by Cesc Fàbregas, who would take up the Argentine’s "false nine" role, rather than his usual (and preferred) spot in midfield. And with this different role comes a different responsibility – Cesc is expected to score as well as create as Barça’s false nine, something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him.

Perhaps if it did, Barcelona would have been level less than five minutes into the second-half as Alexis Sánchez’ shot was parried by Courtois – and if Fàbregas had been a little quicker, a little more instinctive, he could have buried the follow-up chance.

Andrés Iniesta’s long-range effort forced another save from Courtois just minutes later, before Atletico Madrid fought back, reminding Barcelona that the second-half would not just be "one-way traffic". All it took was a teasing delivery from a set-piece by Koke, and Barcelona’s defense was carved apart. With a little more conviction in his header Miranda might have found the back of the net; his glancing effort wasn’t even enough to hit the target.

At this stage of the game, a goal from Miranda might have killed off the game, if not the tie as a whole – Martino knew just how close his team had come to throwing all their hard-work away, and threw caution to the wind. Even if he wasn’t 100% fit, even if he hadn’t fully adapted to the Barcelona system, it was time for Neymar to enter the action. Pedro was player who would make way, with Culés (and Martino) hoping that Neymar could do something, anything to change the game.

In the mean-time, Diego Costa was at it again, wreaking havoc in the Barcelona defense the Brazilian striker tested Valdés’ reflexes with a snap-shot from just inside the penalty area – but it was his compatriot, the super-sub Neymar who would write the headlines. For as well as Costa had played, he could only dream of making such an impact on this match.

The chance was created almost out of nothing; it was almost identical to every other failed Barcelona attack, Xavi was involved, working it to Dani Alves out wide, but this time the right-back got it right. He’d given the ball away, was arguably at fault for Villa’s goal, but this cross made amends – it was perfect and who would climb highest at the far-post?

Neymar.

Juanfran was easily beaten and surprisingly enough, so was Thibaut Courtois; even at his near-post the Belgian couldn’t keep out Neymar’s powerful header. A towering header? From a €57 million Brazilian forward? It seemed too good to be true – particularly after such an underwhelming first-half – but it was clear that this was a different Barça. One that was liberated by Messi’s absence. As great as Leo might be, Barcelona needed someone mobile. They needed someone physically fit to compete with Atletico Madrid, and now that they had "it", they were looking for an unlikely winner.

Atletico Madrid were tired, both physically and mentally. The goal had taken a lot out of them, and with time winding down, they thought they would have to survive a late onslaught, until Martino also "settled for the draw", replacing Xavi with Alex Song in a clear defensive switch. With the second-leg still to come at the Camp Nou, Barcelona can be confident of their chances, and thankful for Neymar’s crucial away goal.

Next up, Barcelona travel to La Rosaleda where they will take on Malaga in Jornada Two; but until then, Visca el Barça!

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