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La Liga: Atletico Madrid 0-0 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's goalless draw with Atletico Madrid

Denis Doyle

FC Barcelona couldn’t find a way through a resolute Atletico Madrid defense on Saturday evening, playing out a goalless draw at the Vicente Calderon to finish the first half of the season on top of La Liga. The game promised much but failed to live up to expectations, as Atletico Madrid were content to disrupt the flow of the game with a overly-physical approach against the visiting Blaugrana.

Atletico Madrid





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Gerardo Martino surprised the world with his team selection, opting to leave both Lionel Messi and Neymar on the FC Barcelona bench. In their absence, Cesc Fàbregas led the Barcelona frontline, with Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sánchez providing support from the flanks, while Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets were tasked with controlling the midfield. Javier Mascherano reclaimed his place in the centre of defense from young Marc Bartra, while Dani Alves also made his La Liga return at the expense of Martin Montoya.

Could this FC Barcelona team seize control at the Vicente Calderon without both Lionel Messi and Neymar?

Both sides started the match with intent; each team had an insatiable desire to recover possession, even if their intent and philosophies were polar opposites. On the one hand you had FC Barcelona, content to retain the ball and chip away at the Atletico defense, while on the other you had the hosts, who were impatient and hoping to bludgeon their way through the visiting backline.

In Diego Costa, they had a battering ram of a striker in incredible form, and it was the Spanish forward who registered the first shot of the game, powering an effort goalwards after a nimble turn saw him escape Javier Mascherano’s attentions for a split second. Pedro responded with Barcelona’s first effort roughly ten minutes later, attempting to direct his measured effort past a sea of red-and-white striped shirts and into the corner of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.

The theme of contrast continued to shape the game; in the absence of many clear-cut chances, Barcelona settled in for the long haul, knowing that their possession game would pay dividends sooner or later, while each Atletico Madrid player channelled their inner Diego Simeone to quite literally leave their mark on the visitors.

Barcelona probed in search of an opening, Atletico settled for whatever they could get; Diego Costa came within inches of breaking the deadlock just before the half-hour mark, but was a fraction too slow to convert Miranda’s intelligent cross-goal flick-on following a corner from Arda Turan.

Despite his relative stature, Pedro rose above Diego Godin to win a good header, but the in-form winger couldn’t keep his attempt down – while Gerard Piqué did well to test Courtois from long range a few minutes later. The usually composed Belgian goalkeeper flapped at the shot, but unfortunately there were no Barça players in range to take advantage.

With neither side finding a breakthrough in the first 45 minutes, Gerardo Martino immediately turned to his bench; Lionel Messi was readied and brought on for the start of the second half, replacing Andrés Iniesta, who took an incredible amount of punishment in the first half at the hands of a thuggish Atleti midfield.

The Argentine superstar made an immediate impact, receiving a short corner from Xavi, Messi toyed with Koke before turning on the afterburners to race clear, where he was met by a forceful late challenge from yet another Atletico Madrid defender. Having already fired a shot away on goal, Messi took the hit and appeared visibly shaken. Of course, there were no repercussions even though the intent was clear for all to see.

Disrupting the flow of Barcelona’s game with late challenges was par for the course after all – especially with a notably lenient referee.

With the game still tied at 0-0, Neymar was introduced after 67 minutes, and mere moments later Barcelona created arguably their best chance of the match as the overlapping Jordi Alba found Lionel Messi with a great cutback, only for Messi to head the chance wide of the far post. It should have been the game’s opening goal; what a let-off for Diego Simeone’s side.

Provided Barcelona could evade the fouls, the Atletico defense was looking far from impenetrable; although with ten Simeone-influenced players on the field that was proving difficult for the Blaugrana.

Lionel Messi was giving it his best shot, skipping past a few challenges to get his clearest look at goal, but his off-balance effort was parried well by Thibaut Courtois. Sergi Roberto replaced Pedro with less than ten minutes left to play, as Martino settled for a share of the spoils. After all, he’d seen enough from this match to realise that there was no need to push for all three points.

Atletico Madrid are well-disciplined, incredibly well-drilled and are certainly motivated to prove their worth in this league. However, they lack a cutting edge in the final third and could barely trouble Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano – two players that some Culés have been criticising all season – and only kept Barcelona at bay thanks to a combination of sheer numbers and incessant fouling.

Yeah, they will make life difficult for Barcelona, and Real Madrid for that matter in individual matches, but let’s face it, they aren’t truly a top team – their gameplan exists to simply stop the top teams from playing. But what happens when you don’t need to stop the opposition and you instead need to find a way through yourself?

Atletico Madrid might not lose to Barcelona or Real Madrid this season, but they’re going to face difficulties against the Espanyols, the Levantes and the Malagas of this league. They will drop points elsewhere and rest assured, Barcelona will drop fewer.

Next up, Barcelona face another trip to Madrid, as they wrap up their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie with Getafe. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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