Barcelona were dumped out of the Champions League by a defensive masterclass from Atletico Madrid who won the game 2-0, courtesy of an Antoine Griezmann brace, and the tie 3-2 on aggregate. Barcelona players were nullified at all stages of the game as Diego Simeone out-classed his counterpart, Luis Enrique, whose players were left hoping for a moment of brilliance as tactically the Catalans weren’t in a position to win.
|Shots on Target
Both managers sent out expected elevens, with Luis Enrique turning to the same XI used in the first leg, while Simeone had to make a change as Fernando Torres missed out on the return leg due to a red card. He was replaced by Augusto Fernández.
From the get go Barcelona looked to control the ball, but Atletico's very high press caused the Catalans all kinds of problems. Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco were especially active in hassling Barcelona's defenders, hoping to cause turnovers deep in Barcelona's area. And they did, for the first time in the 3rd minute and Gabi was left with a good look on goal, but his shot whistled over the crossbar. Four minutes later the hosts would create an even better scoring chance, with Griezmann escaping coverage in the heart of the area, but the Frenchman's header was right at Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Despite trailing by a goal on aggregate, Atletico showed little urgency in attack, instead patiently waiting for a chance to present itself, be it from a turnover or a counter attack. Barcelona, on the other hand, dominated the ball, rarely allowing more than a sniff to their opponents, but getting inside Atletico's 25-yard line seemed impossible, getting deeper even more so. Atletico's physical play also caused Barcelona numerous problems, often because referee Nicola Rizzoli allowed a heavy-contact game. The game-calling criteria, even though the calls were consistent to both sides, favored Atletico's playing style.
As a result of Atletico's excellent defensive positioning Barcelona couldn't get even remotely close to Jan Oblak. The Slovenian goalkeeper only had to make his first play of the game in the 27th minute when he had to make a simple corner kick claim. Six minutes later it appeared as if Oblak just might have to make his first save, but Messi's free kick from the left side was well off the mark.
While Barcelona's attacking moments were few and far between, Atletico's patience and full-pitch press bore fruit. It all started with a terrible clearance from Alba from near the corner flag. Admittedly, Alba was under pressure, but one of the first lessons a full-back gets is to clear the ball down the line or out of play. Instead, Alba sent a weak clear to the middle of the pitch from where Atletico wasted no time in getting the ball in front of goal, where Griezmann again inexplicably escaped coverage, but this time he didn't send the ball right at ter Stegen. This time, he sent it out of the German's reach to put Atletico in front in the game and on aggregate.
Now, Barcelona needed a goal to get through to the semi-final of the Champions League, but the same problem persisted - there was simply no lane through Atletico's defense. At times there was space to take the occasional long-range shot, but Barcelona rarely take shots from such chances. Still, Neymar did try his luck from 25-yards out in the 42nd minute, but while his aim was excellent, the shot lacked power to beat Oblak.
Before the halftime whistle Atletico would threaten one more time, with Carrasco stealing the ball in midfield and taking it all the way, firing a powerful shot in the end, but ter Stegen was there to make the save. The young German did leave a juicy rebound but Saul didn't go for the loose ball.
Neither team made any changes during the break and there weren't many changes in the way the two teams performed on the pitch. Barcelona dominated possession, but Atletico were the team to create scoring chances. The hosts' aggressive defending continued to cause the Catalans problems and there continued to be no lanes for Lionel Messi and company to exploit. Atletico didn't have such problems as seemingly every time they came within 25-yards there was a chance of a goal. The hosts almost doubled their lead in the 52nd minute when Saul rattled the crossbar after a poorly cleared corner kick.
Barcelona then slowly started to tighten the space around penalty area and the Catalans started getting some better looks on goal. The first one came in the 58th minute when after a broken play Alba sent a low cross from the right side to a seemingly open Gerard Pique, but out of nowhere dove Gabi to clear the ball out of danger.
With Barcelona focusing just about all of their forces to the attack, Atletico now had even more space on the counter attack. Griezmann was sent on a solo counter in the 61st minute and got a shot off, but was under enough pressure from the trailing Javier Mascherano and Pique that the shot lacked power to beat ter Stegen.
Barcelona countered that with two shots of their own, but the first, which would've surely forced Oblak to make a stunning save, was cleared away by Diego Godin, while the second, from Andres Iniesta was right at the Atletico goalkeeper. Lucho then made a double substitution, taking off the Ivan Rakitić and the largely inefficient Dani Alves, and replaced them with Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto.
Quickly after the double change, Barcelona created their best chance of the game, with Luis Suarez losing his marker by smartly letting the ball past him, leaving him with space to take the shot. The Uruguayan wasted no chance and powered one on target, but the shot went right at Oblak who easily held on to the ball. Barcelona continued to attack and even managed to get off some shots, but getting those shots through the defensive wall was a different story as Oblak wasn't forced to make his next save until the 83rd minute. Then it was again Suarez who took the shot but he couldn't get enough power on the ball to beat Oblak.
In the 87th minute, Barcelona's mountain to climb got even greater. Roberto lost the ball on the right wing to Filipe Luis who raced on the counter attack and in the end attempted to pass the ball to Griezmann but hit Iniesta's hand instead, resulting in a penalty kick. Atletico's top scorer took responsibility and doubled the hosts' lead even though ter Stegen came close to making the save.
Barcelona now desperately needed a goal to send the game to extra time but because Atletico remained disciplined and weren't caught in the euphoria of the moment, Barcelona were forced to wave goodbye to the potential of back-to-back Champions League titles. The closest to extending the game the Catalans came was in the 90th minute when Gabi handled the ball just inside the penalty area but Rizzoli pointed to a free kick. Still, the kick was from a very dangerous position, but Messi couldn't direct it on goal, extending his goalless drought.
Barcelona now only have two titles left to play for, with six games left in La Liga, where their lead has quickly shrunk to measly three points, and the Copa del Rey where they will face the ever-dangerous Sevilla. Barcelona is now deep in a stretch in which they have won only one of their last five games and for the Catalans to have any hope of righting the ship before it's too late it will have to start on Sunday against Valencia.