Barcelona notched another hugely important scrappy win, this time against their (currently) closest rivals for the 2015-16 La Liga title. Atletico Madrid had gotten off to a better start, scoring first through Koke, but Barcelona clawed back with goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The visitors could’ve had a better chance of a second half comeback had it not been for their extremely aggressive play which led to two red cards.
|Shots on Target||4
The match started with impressive pressure from Atletico players all over the pitch. The visitors were extremely quick to close down every inch of space and wasted no time in sending at least one player right into the face of the Barcelona ball-carrier. While this was a largely expected tactic, it seemed to catch Barcelona off guard as Atletico quickly managed to get plenty of zone-time and threatened through a long range shot and two corner kicks. Barça defended the two corner kicks with relative ease, but the Catalan defense needed plenty of help from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on Saúl Ñíguez's left-footed drive that seemed destined for the far post.
Barcelona slowly started their possession game going, but Atletico remained the better and more dangerous team on the pitch. And while Barcelona still seemed to be searching for their attacking identity, Atletico's attacks looked fluid and deadly. That coupled with the recently found inability to defend in first halves could only lead to one thing - an early Atletico Madrid lead. Juanfran played though Saul who jumped past the slipping Jordi Alba and had plenty of time to find a receiver for his cross. His pass found the wide open Koke and with no defender in sight the midfielder could pick his spot and send the visitors in front.
While Atletico's press eased up at times, Barcelona continued to struggle with the ball, with the distribution from the back suffering the most. The hosts didn't produce their first good looking attacking move until the 17th minute when Messi found Alves who half-volleyed a great ball on goal, but a diving José Giménez prevented what seemed a certain goal. Atletico found it much easier to threaten in the opening 20 minutes, something Augusto Fernández showed nicely on his 20-yard shot as defenders were seen backing off so that the Argentinian could send a shot just wide of goal.
But the tides were changing and Barcelona were from one minute to the next able to threaten more and create better chances, a performance that peaked in the final third of the first half. First, in the 29th minute Iniesta played a one-two with an Atletico defender before sending a perfect pass to the middle to Suarez, who wasted no time in sending a good shot on goal, but Jan Oblak produced an even better save.
The very next minute Barça showcased some brilliant ball movement in attack, first attacking down the right side and later changing sides. There Neymar sent a through ball to Jordi Alba who didn't panic. He waited for an opening to get the ball to Messi who was in a good position and made no mistake in tying the game. Atletico reacted well to conceding, launching a quick attack from the ensuing kickoff, but Barcelona managed to fend off the pressure and just eight minutes later Barcelona were in front. Dani Alves sent a perfect long-ball over the defense to Suarez who was able to control the ball and beat Oblak.
Frustration started to brew on Atletico's side and the persistent fouling, which was ever-present, started to become more and more brutal. And even though Alberto Undiano Mallenco was slow to reach for the card, Atletico had three yellow cards after 42 minutes. He probably should've shown a couple more because maybe then Filipe Luis wouldn't have "attempted" an absolutely disgusting studs-to-the-knee challenge on Messi just before the halftime whistle to rightfully get shown a direct red card. Luckily, the arguably best player in the world was able to continue.
Without a left-back, Diego Simeone was forced to make a halftime substitution, leaving midfielder Gabi on the bench and replaced him with Jesús Gámez. Despite playing a man down, Atletico continued to be very dangerous as Barcelona often seemed content to allow the visitors play while the Catalans would wait for their chances on the counter attack. It was a plan similar to some games Barcelona would wish to quickly forget, like Valencia and Deportivo La Coruña.
In the 56th minute this "plan" almost came to bite them as twice Yannick Carrasco made things happen for Atletico. First, he slalomed past three Barcelona defenders before Gerard Pique dispossessed him. Moments later, Carrasco was causing havoc on the right side, sending a perfect cross in front of goal where from in close Antoine Griezmann acrobatically tipped the ball on goal but somehow didn't beat Bravo.
Atletico continued to threaten and it appeared that at times panic started to seep into the Barcelona defenders. Possession was all too often lost too easily, clearances were poor and positioning was often off the mark. Still, Bravo didn't have to make many saves during this stretch. Barcelona rarely attacked in the opening 20 minutes but when they did they were able to threaten. Messi and company managed to outplay the defense in the 65th minute, but Suarez was unable to get a shot off, but he retained possession. And while running with the ball away from goal to the corner flag he was mowed down by Diego Godin, earning himself a second yellow card and an early bath.
The long stoppage saw Barcelona replace Ivan Rakitić with birthday-boy and former Atletico-man Arda Turan. Simeone had to make a change to (again) restock his defensive line, this time sacrificing Griezmann to put Stefan Savić on the pitch. After the restart, Messi immediately tried his luck from the tough-angle free kick, but Oblak was ready for it.
Simeone was also forced into his third change, in the 76th minute, when Fernández picked up what appeared to be a left knee injury. He was replaced by Thomas Partey. Two minutes later, Barcelona threatened again, this time through Arda, who received a good ball from Sergio Busquets, but his far post shot just missed the target. Another two minutes later Alves missed from distance.
In the 82nd minute, Barcelona made their second change, replacing Alves with Sergi Roberto. One would've expected that Barcelona, playing with a two-man advantage, would mean a continuous onslaught on goal, but that was not the case. Barcelona were attacking, but with little to no urgency and there was always a pass or two too many. This resulted in a heart-pounding final stretch of the game as just one lucky bounce or good play would've left Barcelona without a win. But that did not happen and Barcelona were able to leave the pitch with three points and in sole possession of the La Liga lead.
|Roll Call Info|
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