Lionel Messi scored the lone and late goal of the night, as FC Barcelona got the 1-0 win over Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal match on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou. El Blaugrana will take a home-goal lead to the Vicente Calderon next week for the second leg. In the 85th minute, Messi's penalty shot was stopped, but Leo scooped in the rebound to give Barça the win.
Messi started off hot in the first half, and shined throughout the game. You could tell Leo knew the Atletico defense was beatable, and went all-in on attack. Luis Suarez and Neymar did not have good games, overall. Perhaps the most frustrating moment in the game was in the 35th minute when Suarez took a great pass from Ivan Rakitic and missed a clear shot of making it 1-0 in the first half.
When this happened, main people on social media said, "Liverpool Luis Suarez would've buried the goal." I agree—to an extent. Last season's Suarez probably get the goal. But we should relax and forgive Suarez. It happens to the best players, and I'm sure Luisito will improve. And that brings me to one thing I did not like about what I saw against Atletico: Suarez essentially standing in the middle of the box, fighting off Diego Godin and the rest of the Atleti defense, waiting for the ball to come his way. Standing there and trying to fight an Atleti defense known for their rough, physical play is not going to get Luis goals nor is it going to open things up for Messi, Neymar and/or other Barça players.
Luis Suarez needs to get running again; being dynamic and the goals will come. Even in the missed goal, we saw that Suarez is most effective when he does this. Atletico defended with eight, as expected, and standing around the Atleti bus is not going to produce much. As we saw with Messi, you have to try and slam through the bus—run right through them. Is changing the formation and/or moving Messi back in the middle and playing Neymar and Suarez toward the middle and up in front an option? We've seen Luis Suarez have moments of greatness, and I'm sure once he has a full season working on the on-the-pitch chemistry with Neymar and Leo, things will get easier for him.
Barcelona controlled the game as far as possession, as usual (71% to 29%), but once again, shots and shots on goal were not on par for Barça. In the end, Barcelona won the shot attempts stat, but were not as convincing as the Liga game vs. Atleti a few weeks ago. Then again, the Liga game vs. Atleti saw Barça only have one good first half, and a mediocre second half. Neymar and Suarez had off games vs Atleti. Andres Iniesta, Rakitic, and Sergio Busquets individually had their moments, but there were too many times when they worked together that it seemed like they were struggling to create chances for the forwards, but credit must be given to Atletico. Simeone wants to defend with eight and go from there. I know I said jokingly about Atleti "parking the bus," but how many times can we use this as an excuse? I'm not saying that Barça's performance was terrible, but what I am saying is that it was not great as well, to say the least, and Culés shouldn't be pounding their chests about it. It was a tough win, not a great win. And no, tough wins are not always great wins. The midfield, as most of the season, lacked a few times and are not helping the forwards. Part of what needs to be addressed is with the players and the other half is on Luis Enrique, as the manager.
Maybe I'm asking for too much. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect—with the talent, experience and skill on this team—a bit more. Then again, talent and experience doesn't always result in dominating wins and we have to respect the opponent's performance. Remember, this is my editorial and they are just my thoughts. It's OK if you kindly disagree.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot of the night (we can say Messi almost every game) was the play of Gerard Pique. He looked like the Pique of 2011-defending corner kicks and set pieces well, passing well, and cutting off counterattacks. His best moment came in the 39th minute when Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann came charging on a break. Torres tried to find Antoine, but Pique was there to break up the counter and get Barça out of potential trouble.
People think Chelsea killed Torres' career, but Piqué actually just ended his career. https://t.co/9eDikBezDn
— U want sum Atletico? (@pure_hattricks) January 21, 2015
I joking said on Twitter that the "Pre-Shakira" Gerard Pique is back, as some Culés have said in the past that Pique has focused more on being a celebrity than a footballer since he began dating the Colombian music star. My hope is that Pique stays consistent. Gerard Pique played well on Wednesday, and another big-time performance from him and the entire FCB defense will be needed, as Atleti will turn up the pressure on offense at the Calderon.
One thing I did like seeing is the intensity from the Barça players. Javier Mascherano had a solid game, and seeing him, Suarez and the rest of the Barça players angry was good. It was good for the players to get that passionate and good for us, the fans, to see that despite all of the circus that has been this 2014-15 season on the pitch and in the front office, the players show us that this is important and they know defeating Atleti is arguably the last major test left in this Copa del Rey tournament. Lastly, let me add in that the referee was terrible throughout the game. And not just on non-calls; there were a few calls that should've gone against Barça (Messi's lunge vs. Miranda).
Lastly, can we all agree that Marc-Andre ter Stegen looked good against Atleti? MAtS completed 17 passes in the first half-only three Atleti players had more passes than the German goalkeeper. Ter Stegen made the saves when needed, and despite seeing playing time only in Copa and Champions League games, we can all see that MAtS has plenty of confidence despite not being the full-time starter. Some have compared Marc-Andre to Manuel Neuer, which is unfair to MAtS to compare him to the great Bayern Munich keeper. Yes, there is some Neuer-esque traits in Ter Stegen (sweeper keeper), but let's wait for the young GK to make his own legacy at FC Barcelona before we can make honest comparisons to other GKs. Nothing against Claudio Bravo, but we all know it's only a matter of time Ter Stegen gets the full-time spotlight-and not just because of age, but because of play and ability.
What's Next: Sunday at Elche
The second half of the La Liga season starts on Sunday, as FC Barcelona travels to take on Elche. It'll be interesting to see who starts for this game, as Barça has the second leg of the Copa midweek next week. Jeremy Mathieu and Marc Bartra should start, while Pique rests. Don't be surprised if Rafinha and Xavi start to give Rakitic and Iniesta rest. At forward, expect Pedro to start, but who will get rest? Will it be Neymar or Luis Suarez (don't expect Messi to sit or be benched, unless Lucho is asking for more trouble)?
Wednesday was not the best overall performance for FC Barcelona. However, it was good enough to get a 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid thanks to solid defending, Messi and other good individual performances.
Time to get ready for Elche and starting the second half the Liga season right: with a win.