Neymar saved the day for FC Barcelona as his first meaningful goal of his Blaugrana career gave Barça a precious road goal in a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.
David Villa got the scoring started in the 11th minute as his spectacular golazo gave the home side a 1-0 lead. And by the way Villa celebrated his goal, you can tell it meant a lot to him to score against the team that sold him away for cheap.
In the 58th minute, Neymar came in for Pedro, and in less than ten minutes, the little Brazilian equalized as a sweet cross from fellow countryman Dani Alves found the head of Neymar who put it past Thibaut Courtois for the 1-1 score line.
FT: Atletico Madrid 1-1 FC Barcelona
Time to give out my Good, Bad, & Ugly for this game.
The Good: Atletico Madrid's first half, and Javier Mascherano.
Diego Simeone's team had a solid first half has his team was never afraid of Barcelona. The counterattack that lead to David Villa's goal was an example of how to beat FC Barcelona. Atletico also stole the ball on several occasions in the first half, not being afraid of chasing the ball to get it out of Lionel Messi's or Andres Iniesta's hands. Atleti had a few other chances to make it 2-0 in the first half, but were unable to increase their lead.
Can I just say that Javier Mascherano had a terrific game. El Jefecito was making great defensive plays all game-much better than Gerard Pique-and is showing solid play in these first two (meaningful) games of the season. Maybe Tata Martino is bringing out the best of fellow Argentine Mascherano, but whatever it is, Javier Mascherano is looking good-given it's very early in the season.
The Bad: Barca's first half
El Blaugrana didn't look like the team that blew out Levante just a few days ago. Then again, Atletico is no Levante. Andres Iniesta had a bad game, losing the ball on several occasions. Jordi Alba was not making the plays we're accustomed to seeing. Xavi was a bit off, and Pedro had a bad game.
Credit goes to Atletico Madrid for causing problems for FC Barcelona-as they should. I am hopeful Tata Martino will give his team a bit of tough love during this week's training sessions, as the team was flat for most of the game.
And no, winning ball possession is never just enough or is a silver lining. Barça always wins the ball possession category. We need more execution, and not get back into the category of "looking for the perfect pass and/or goal."
By the way: Can we all agree the Senyera road kits are beautiful?! I say we make the Senyera kits the permanent road kit of FC Barcelona.
I can't wait to see FC Barcelona wear the Senyera kits in the city of Madrid again, but next time, at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid. General Francisco Franco will be rolling in his grave, which is a very good thing!
The Ugly: Lionel Messi's injury
Lionel Messi's injury is worrisome, to say the least. Leo was taken out at halftime as a precaution due to discomfort in his left thigh. Test will be made on Thursday to see the extent of Leo's injury. We all hope it's nothing serious, but Messi may need to miss this weekend's Liga game at Málaga in order to be fit for the return leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Of course the major concern is that this injury becomes a nagging injury that follows Leo all season-football gods, please forbid. On Thursday, we found out that Messi's injury is not as serious as thought, and he could be available for Sunday's game against Málaga.
I say let Leo rest. Messi is always needed, but I'd rather take my chances with a Messi-less Barcelona at Málaga than no Leo against Atletico next week. I know the Spanish Super Cup is not a major title and every Liga game is important, but I believe it's more important that Martino and his team wins this title to build upon this young 2013-14 competitive season.
Last thing: I first thought of giving the Ugly award to Tata Martino's lime green polo shirt he was sporting. But now that I think about it, it did look a bit stylish, so props to el mister for that.
What We Learned?: Tata Has Plenty of Work to Do (Obviously)
This game showed me that this FC Barcelona team is still a long way away from making a serious run in Europe. They clearly have enough to win La Liga as well as this Super Cup, but the way they played for most of the game, Tata Martino knows he has plenty of work to do in with this team. He's clearly got the rotating of players down firmly, but he'll have to work with his players-perhaps individually-to get the best out of each player.
Can I just say how happy I am for Neymar as he got his first goal of the competitive season. And it was fitting it came from Dani Alves, his big brother as Neymar calls him. If Leo is not able to play against Malaga this weekend, Tata has to build his game plan to feature Neymar as a starter. Last thing: Alexis Sanchez is playing terrific as well. I get the feeling Tata is giving Alexis much needed confidence.
What to Look Out For and What's Next?: Sunday at Málaga
FC Barcelona will play their first road game of the Liga season on Sunday as they take on Málaga. Look for Cristian Tello to play in that game at some point of the game, as the kid did not play against Atletico. Marc Bartra could make an appearance if Tata decides to rest Pique or Mascherano for the Super Cup game later next week. As I previously mentioned, if Messi is not able to play, Tata Martino must start Neymar on the left side, with Cesc Fabregas at CF to play the False 9 position Cesc is accustomed to playing with the Spanish National Team.
Could Tata start Neymar at the False 9? I doubt he'd do that, but never say never.
Xoel's Final Thoughts
Overall, I was satisfied that FC Barcelona was able to leave the Vicente Calderon with a draw and that precious road goal. The way the game played out, I feel fortunate Barça didn't get shutout.
I am a bit worried about Leo Messi's injury, but I feel better knowing that Tata Martino will not risk his best player's long-term health, and will sit him out if needed-even if Leo feels he's OK to play.
It's all going to come down to the Camp Nou next week to see who will crown themselves Spanish Super Cup champions. It won't be easy, but in the end, I am confident Barcelona will get back on track offensively next week, and take care of Atletico Madrid next Wednesday.
But that's next week. First things first: let's focus on this weekend's Liga matchup against Málaga on Sunday.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona