For the fourth time this 2013-14 competitive season, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid end a game in a tie, this time 1-1 in their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup, 1st leg, at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Diego got the scoring started in the 56th minute as the Brazilian smacked a long-range golazo to give Atleti the lead and the sought-after road goal. Great goal. Neymar equalized in the 71st minute as a wonderful through-ball pass from Andres Iniesta found Ney open on the left side and the Brazilian put the ball to the far post and past Thibaut Courtios for the equalizer.
Gerard Pique and Diego Costa started the game, but both did not finish the game as Pique suffered a hip injury, and Costa suffered an apparent hamstring injury. Barcelona had plenty of opportunities in the second half, but was not able to find the game-winning goal. Atletico head back to Madrid with a draw and the road goal advantage.
Final: FC Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Let's get to the Best, Worst, and What We Learned from this game.
The Best: Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Marc Bartra, Sergio Busquets, Thibaut Courtios, Diego's golazo
How great was Andres Iniesta tonight?! He has the best ball control I have ever seen on a football pitch. His through-ball assist to Neymar on the goal was a thing of beauty. As much as I enjoy seeing Iniesta when he plays at forward, he needs to go back to the midfield for the second leg. That would cause more problems for Atletico in the midfield, and open up the forwards. Neymar had a solid night against Atletico. He was cutting through the Atleti defenders left and right. Neymar's goal saved Barça's neck in this game to keep things leveled on goal-with Atletico still holding the away goal edge. Neymar kept the haters quiet for at least one night.
When Gerard Pique went down with an injury, it looked like trouble was brewing. But Marc Bartra came into the game and was straight ballin'. The kid was tough, defended terrifically, and had a great night in arguably one of the biggest game he has ever played in thus far in his young career. Marc Bartra has been mentored well by Carles Puyol, and he will continue to try to prove that he can handle playing in big games. Sergio Busquets had a great game, as he nor Marc Bartra did not lose a ball in the game. Thibaut Courtios had a beast of a game as well. The Belgian made great stops on an Andres Iniesta shot, a Lionel Messi free kick, and other Barça opportunities. And Diego's golazo was, of course, amazing.
The Worst: All of the fouls, Diego Costa and Gerard Pique's injuries
The amount of fouls in this game was ridiculous. Atletico had more fouls and more cards, but still, both clubs played a tough match with plenty of hits given to one another. Gerard Pique's injury did not hinder Barcelona very much, as Marc Bartra had a great game. After the game, it was confirmed that Pique suffered a hip injury, and will be out for a month. Anims Pique. Diego Costa left the game with an apparent hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see if he will be fully healthy for the second leg, as Atletico Madrid are a very different team on the pitch without Costa.
What We Learned: Tata Martino may have gone "all in" with the "Xavi-Cesc-Iniesta all together" lineup one too many times.
Prior to El Clásico a few weeks ago, I mentioned in an article that I wouldn't be surprised if Tata Martino goes back to the "Xavi-Cesc Fabregas-Iniesta all together" starting XI in which Iniesta plays RW or LW. This lineup worked against Manchester City for both legs of their Champions League draw, and Tata went back to it against Real Madrid. And you know what, it worked, as Barcelona won at the Santiago Bernabeu.
I had a feeling Tata would go back to that lineup for the Atleti game. He did, and the lineup did not work well for this game.
Part of the reason is because that lineup is, obviously, to further enhance ball-possession. The lineup was needed against City and against Real Madrid. But against Atletico Madrid, the "Xavi-Cesc-Iniesta all together" starting XI did not work, and three true forwards were needed.
I know it's easy to look back on the game after it's over and say a change should have happened, but this game did not require an extra midfielder for a few reasons-reasons that were known days before this Atletico game. Here are a few reasons why:
A.) Atletico is not like Real Madrid nor Man City, who have multiple goal-scoring threats on attack-with all due respect to Koke, David Villa and those not named Diego Costa. Koke and Villa are terrific players who do score a good amount of goals, but they are no Sergio Aguero or Cristiano Ronaldo. Costa was/is the main goal-scoring concern. The counterattack of Alteti is a threat, but not as lethal as City or Madrid's.
B.) The FCB lineup with four midfielders and only two forwards reduces the opportunities for Barça to be as lethal in the counterattack as they could be with Pedro or Alexis in the game.
C.) Putting Iniesta at LW hurts Neymar's game, as he is a natural LW and does his damage coming from the left side of the pitch (as we saw with his goal).
D.) Last but not least, FC Barcelona was at home for this first leg, and goals were needed. If this first leg was at the Vicente Calderon, then perhaps a four-midfielder /two forward lineup would be effective because Barcelona would want to: have greater ball possession, take the Atleti crowd out of the game, and get a draw on the road.
Now that the game is over, let's face it: Lionel Messi did not have a great game, as he was smothered by the Atleti defense. Credit goes to Atleti. Messi only had Neymar to help lead the attack. Iniesta did well, but another forward could have helped.
Barcelona did not need more ball possession against Atletico Madrid. Barça always win the ball possession against opponents. Against Atleti and especially being at home, Barcelona needed goals, needed to press, and needed to open up space on the pitch. Barcelona did not need to go with the "Xavi-Cesc-Iniesta all together" lineup. Yes, Andres Iniesta had a great game; so did Neymar. But it was evident Barcelona needed Pedro or Alexis Sanchez to widen the pitch and help out in attack. As much as I like Cesc Fabregas, he has had two bad games in a row, and it's my opinion that Tata Martino should sit him for the second leg against Atletico. Cesc can come in as a substitute, as a regular 4-3-3 lineup with three forwards will be needed to attack. Iniesta can move back to midfield, and have either Pedro or Alexis on the RW with Messi at CF and Neymar at his natural LW position. Barcelona will be looking for road goals and an attacking lineup is required, not more midfielders.
What's Next?: Saturday vs. Real Betis
Barcelona will welcome Real Betis to the Camp Nou in Liga action this Saturday. With Gerard Pique out and the CB depth thinned out, Tata Martino will need to use Alex Song as the third CB in the roster, if not, call up either Sergi Gomez, Edgar Lé or even Frank Bagnack to add depth. Perhaps Carles Puyol will be fit for either the Betis game, if not, the second leg of the CL quarterfinals against Atletico.
Xoel's Final Word
It was a scrappy game, but in the end, Atletico Madrid was able to get a 1-1 draw against FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup. It's all or nothing for Barça at the Vicente Calderon next week. A 0-0 draw or any kind of Atleti win sees Barça out. A 1-1 draw gives us extra time in the second leg-with FCB having the advantage, as any goal in extra time would give Barça two road goals on aggregate. Finally, any 2-2 or higher draw or a Barcelona win sees El Blaugrana reaching the Champions League semifinals once again.
The road to a championship is always filled with bumps. But FC Barcelona will have their shot at knocking Atletico Madrid off the Champions League road next week.
Hard-fought game, Barça.
Time to keep pace in La Liga and focus on Real Betis.
Xoel, The Voice of Culés