In a day in which Real Madrid scored six goals, it was FC Barcelona who gave the best performance of the La Liga season to date as they recovered from Fernando Torres’ opening goal to register a comeback victory against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.
The Blaugrana entered this match off the back of an international break, with suspensions and injuries ruling out three defensive starters, while the well-travelled Lionel Messi was only deemed fit enough to start from the bench. All this up against a side that had inflicted a rare and astounding 0-3 loss on UEFA Europa League winners, Sevilla FC at the notoriously difficult Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan in their previous fixture – Diego Simeone’s title contenders, Atletico Madrid.
For all intents and purposes, this wasn’t a game that Barcelona were supposed to win; it was going to be one obstacle too many, a mountain too high, even for our talented squad. And for a moment, it seemed as though that might have been the case.
Fernando Torres isn’t quick as nimble as he once was, but his movement and reading of the game remains a class apart so when Barça made their first and perhaps only misstep of the evening, he took advantage. His composed side-footed finish left Marc-André ter Stegen without a chance, and sent the crowd at the Vicente Calderon wild – Atletico Madrid were ahead, and with home advantage on their side, all hope seemed lost for the visiting Blaugrana...
But if this was supposed to be the defining moment of Atletico’s season, then it appears though Neymar didn’t get the memo. Barça were a goal behind and with their best player sat on the bench, figuratively twiddling his thumbs, yet the precociously talented Brazilian boy-wonder had a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
Not for the first time, Atleti couldn’t deal with Neymar. It had been painfully clear that they had no answers for his trickery and skill on the ball; in countless one-on-one situations, Juanfran, Gabi and just about every other player in a red and white jersey took their turns at fouling Barcelona’s #11 – in their eyes, giving away a free-kick was far more favourable than an individual battle with the Brazilian.
In most instances, they were probably right – in the 54th minute of this match however, they couldn’t have been more mistaken. With Lionel Messi off the field, Neymar claimed the free-kick for himself – and reminiscent of his strikes against Panama and last season against Sevilla, he found the top corner of net with a sublime curling effort.
For those keeping count, it was Neymar’s sixth goal against Atletico Madrid – the highest total of any club he has faced in his career, inclusive of his time at Santos.
Barcelona had barely been behind a few minutes before Neymar’s sweetly struck equaliser rippled the net and stunned the Calderon into silence. Luis Enrique sensed there was an opportunity; Lionel Messi was readied and brought off the bench and looked his usual spritely self in a scene-stealing half-an-hour performance.
His eventual winner was the stuff of dreams as well. Intricate build-up play, superb off the ball movement and incisive passing will ensure that Messi’s winner features as an integral part of any Barça highlights package for the campaign. And just like that, Atleti’s advantage had been overturned – almost as easily as they had put themselves ahead.
No matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, Atletico Madrid just cannot beat Barcelona. Or, more accurately: Diego Simeone just cannot outfox Luis Enrique.
After all, this marks the fifth consecutive occasion that Lucho has emerged victorious against Simeone, a feat that no other manager or team has ever achieved – a fact that simply cannot be overstated. If there were question marks over Barça after the UEFA and Spanish Super Cups, consider this to be our resounding answer:
El Barça seguir sent el número 1.