For the second time in 10 days Barcelona managed to win against Atletico Madrid, something they were unable to do all last season. A single goal was enough for Barcelona this time and the Catalans will take the slimmest of advantages into the second leg played next week. Lionel Messi was the only goalscorer of the match, burying his own rebound after a failed penalty kick attempt.
|FC Barcelona||Atletico Madrid
|Shots on Target||4||1|
Lucho once again surprised with his starting XI, but this it was a different surprise as the ten outfield players remained the same as there were over the last two La Liga games. The only change from those two games was in goal where, as expected, Marc-Andre ter Stegen replaced the reliable Chilean, Claudio Bravo.
The atmosphere at the Camp Nou was far from the one ten days ago when the stadium was rocking. This time around there were many empty seats. Several factors were responsible for that: first and foremost, it's "only" the Copa del Rey; second, the game was played on a Wednesday at 10pm local time; and third, it was a very brisk late evening. But the crowd became more energized as soon as Barcelona started to create chances.
Though that didn't come until weathering some early pressure from the visitors. The pressure only lasted a couple of minutes and was mostly contained on the perimeter, but the Barcelona defense needed to have their heads in the game early.
Then Barcelona started to control the ball, and as soon as that happened Atletico were quickly forced into a defensive formation in their third of the pitch. It didn't take Barcelona long to break down the defensive line for the first time in the game as already in the 4th minute Jan Oblak was forced to make a full-stretch save. The play started on the right side with Lionel Messi and Dani Alves leading the charge. A slightly behind-the-back ball was passed to Luis Suarez in the middle where the Uruguay international did very well to chip the ball forward to Neymar who made a couple of steps toward the middle from where he fired a curling shot destined to go just inside the far post, but the Slovenian goalkeeper one-handed the ball away.
When not in possession Barcelona gave the Atletico ball carrier very little time to look at his options which often resulted in a turnover just a pass or two into their possession time. But after the early stretch of strong play by Barcelona, Atletico started to assert their physical play. Atletico often outmuscled Barcelona to 50-50 ball purely because of their strength.
The visitors also stepped up their off-the-ball pressure, which caused Barcelona many problems. With Barcelona unable to consistently control the ball Atletico became increasing more dangerous. Most of their attacks were concentrated on Barcelona's right side where Alves has many problems with Atletico's left-back, Guilherme Siqueira. Many corner kicks and free kicks were won on that side by the Brazilian and his "wing-mate", Arda Turan, but Barcelona, most notably Gerard Pique, were able to clear the danger time and time again. Even ter Stegen was invited in on the action, making his first save of the match just before the half hour mark when he stopped Arda's long range drive.
While most of the attacks did come down the left side Atletico launched a strong counter straight down the middle, with Koke leading the way, after 31 minutes of play. The midfielder then found noted Barcelona nemesis, Fernando Torres, in space on the left side, but Pique did very well to close him down, blocking the shot and only giving up a corner kick. Surprising, Altetico took many corner kicks short, opting not to test Barcelona's defense directly from set play.
While Atletico seemed likelier to score during the middle part of the first half it were Barcelona who in the 36th minute prepared the best chance of the first half. Ivan Rakitić beautifully dinked the ball over the backline to a wide open Suarez who attempted a first-time shot, but missed badly. And he knew it immediately, falling to the ground in disgust before the ball even cleared the crossbar. Quickly thereafter Andres Iniesta when on a brilliant run through the middle, but ran out of real-estate to have a chance to beat Oblak.
The back-and-forth action continued as in the 39th minute Antoine Griezmann and Torres had a clean two-on-one, with only Pique to. Griezmann attempted a pass to spring Torres all alone on ter Stegen, but he somehow managed to hit Pique in the heel, stopping the dangerous attack dead in its tracks.
Over the last five or so minute of the half teams exchanged many possessions, but Barcelona came closer to scoring the opening goal. The home side had a good chance of doing that when Neymar and Iniesta combined beautifully inside the box, but Iniesta was deemed to be offside.
Just before halftime, referee José Luis González González showed the first yellow card of the match. It went to Atletico's Juanfran, who was not one of the four players in danger of being suspended for the return leg.
Diego Simeone already made his first substitution at halftime, replacing the not-fully fit yet Torres with Mario Mandžukić.
Barcelona came storming out of the gate in the second half, creating chances down both wings. First, Jordi Alba went on a strong run down the left side, sending a dangerous cross into the box, but the Atletico defense handled it well. Moments later Messi tried to create something on the opposite wing, doing well to get past three Atletico defenders, but his pass was behind both Suarez and Iniesta so the chance went begging.
As was the case early in the first half Barcelona rarely gave the ball away for more than a handful of seconds, rarely allowing Atletico to even play the ball into the Barcelona half. But while that might have been the case, Barcelona also struggled mightily to get a good look on goal of their own. Atletico started their pressure very high up the pitch and Barcelona had a difficult time finding a path not only to the goal, but also between one another. Barcelona didn't fire their first shot of the second half until 15 minutes after the restart, and even that one was blocked by a diving Koke, otherwise it could've resulted in a golazo from Iniesta.
In the 65th minute Simeone completed his second substitution, this time taking Griezmann off the pitch. He was replaced by the always dangerous, one way or the other, Raul Garcia.
The possession stats will show that Barcelona absolutely dominated the ball, and while it certainly seemed that Barcelona had the ball in their possession by some margin compared to Atletico, it was quite surprising how Barcelona struggled to find a hole in the defensive line. Especially considering the last meeting between the two. There was absolutely no penetration through the middle where Suarez was too isolated. Therefore Barcelona were limited to the very rare long range shot. One, the first one since the 60th minute, came when Iniesta (again) tried his luck, but Oblak was well positioned to make the save.
In the 77th minute Lucho countered with a substitution of his own, replacing Rakitić with Xavi who was making his first appearance since suffering the injury a fortnight ago.
Frustration started to creep into Barcelona's minds as evidenced when Suarez and Javier Mascherano argued with the referee over separate handball infractions from the Atletico players. Neither of them achieved much, apart from earning a yellow card each, but they might have put some pressure into the back of the referee's mind. Something that might have been useful in the 82nd minute.
Suarez won a free kick on the right side, in a position close to Messi's ideal spot. The Argentine set the ball for himself and fired a low shot, under the wall, but it was blocked. The rebound, however, fell to Sergio Busquets who was brought down by Juanfran inside the penalty area for a spot-kick. Messi took responsibility, but his chest high shot was excellently saved by Oblak. The Slovenian was, however, unable to steer the rebound away from danger, leaving the ball sitting right in front of goal. Messi was first to it and with the empty net in front of him he had no problems putting Barcelona into the lead.
Lucho quickly responded to the lead, reinforcing the Barcelona defense by bringing Marc Bartra into the game and taking Iniesta off the pitch. Needing a goal Simeone attempted to bring some firepower, Raul Jimenez, on and taking some defense off, Gabi.
But that proved to be an invitation for Barcelona who created a couple good scoring chances late in the game, but failed to add to the lead. First Messi and Neymar went on a two-on-one break, but Messi was unable to supply the ball to Neymar for the easy finish. Then, in the 91st minute, Messi won a free kick just outside of the box that resulted in a yellow card for Diego Godin, who will miss the return leg as a result of it. Messi took the free kick, but his aim was off.
With the one-goal win this tie is far from decided, but with the second leg being played at the Vicente Calderon this is a good result for Barcelona. The return leg will be played on Wednesday, at 9pm local time, with a La Liga game against Elche scheduled in between.
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