FC Barcelona fought back against a tough Atletico Madrid side to earn the first leg advantage in the quarter final stage of the Champions League. The visitors took the lead midway through the first half with noted Barcelona nemesis Fernando Torres drawing first blood. But that same player would later in the half get sent off to give Barcelona the man-advantage, setting up a fantastic second half comeback led by Luis Suarez who scored both Barcelona goals.
|Shots on Target||5
Three days after losing the El Clasico, Barcelona was back in action again, and Luis Enrique trusted the same ten outfielders as he did against Real Madrid. The only change came in goal where Marc-Andre ter Stegen took his usual place.
From the opening whistle Barcelona controlled the ball while Atletico sat deep, allowing Barcelona to pass the ball around their deep box, 30 yards from goal, but leaving very little space to the Catalans to launch a really dangerous attack. Atletico looked very threatening in their quick counter attacks, but often their passes were slightly off the mark, which allowed Barcelona's defenders to intercept passes and stop attacks. Barcelona had similar problems on the other side, as numerous turnovers stopped several attacks before they could come even close to Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Despite the aforementioned numerous mistakes on offense, Barcelona early in the game created better-looking half-chances than their counterparts. In the 5th minute Lionel Messi took his first shot of the night, from the edge of the area, but the ball whistled wide of the near post. Seven minutes later Messi had an even better looking chance, coming after an accurate cross from Jordi Alba, but the Argentine's first-time shot was poor and the shot badly missed the target.
Barcelona might have dominated the ball, but with Atletico often placing eight players in their own penalty area and the highest placed players standing 30-yards from Oblak, the visitors' defense seemed impenetrable. From such a congested set-up it was also easy for Atletico to at a moment's notice launch counter-attacks, from which the Madrid team always looked dangerous. But it would be Barcelona who would create the best scoring opportunity of the opening 20 minutes. The play came in the 19th minute, with Dani Alves sending a perfect cross to the far post where, after a slip from Juanfran, Neymar was allowed a free-header. The Brazilian looked destined to score, but he couldn't direct the header on target.
The miss would come to haunt Barcelona shortly thereafter. First the Catalans were given a warning shot, with Antoine Griezmann just missing the target on a low shot - a shot that ter Stegen probably would've saved had it been on target. But Barcelona defenders disregarded the warning shot and they paid for it in the 25th minute. The back-line was clearly caught off-guard, and with Pique jumping up to cover Koke, Torres was left behind in the gaping hole, and as every Barcelona fan by now knows, Torres can still score against Barcelona - this time sending an accurate low shot through the legs of ter Stegen.
The away goal was without a doubt the biggest prize Atletico could've asked for going into the game and they got one just 25 minutes in. They almost got another one seven minutes later when another defensive breakdown saw Griezmann gallop on goal and get a good shot off, but ter Stegen dove to his left and with his fingertips sent the ball out of play. While Barcelona didn't allow the goal, they seemed to have lost Alba to a hand injury, but the speedy full-back returned to action after receiving treatment from the Barça physios.
Atletico's defensive form suffered a blow in the 35th minute when Torres picked up his second yellow card in just six minutes. He received his first for a silly foul Neymar in midfield and he picked up his second for a clumsy tackle on Sergio Busquets on the midfield line, and referee Felix Brych showed no mercy, sending Torres to an early shower.
In the 41st minute, Barcelona for the first time tested Oblak in goal, with the powerful long-range effort coming from Javier Mascherano, but the shot was right at the Atletico goalkeeper. Two minutes were added on to normal time, but more than a harmless Neymar shot over the crossbar Barcelona could not manage.
The second half started with both teams launching very dangerous attacks in the early going. Atletico threatened once down the left flank and once down the right, but ter Stegen wasn't tested even though a goal was in the air on both plays. Barcelona came even closer. First, in the 49th minute, Neymar found Messi in the heart of the area, but the pass was slightly to Messi's back. Still, the Argentine managed to control the ball with his chest and attempted a bicycle kick that missed the post by mere inches. Two minutes later Neymar sent two defenders the wrong way to win space for a shot - a shot that beat Oblak but thundered off the crossbar.
Barcelona's pressure was relentless and despite a very organized Atletico defense the Catalans were able to create good scoring chances. In order to further improve their defensive stance Diego Simeone in the 53rd minute brought on Augusto Fernández in place of Yannick Carrasco. But Barcelona would continue to launch attack after attack. In the 55th minute Neymar again in open space received a cross, this one from Ivan Rakitić, but again his aim was poor, this time right at Oblak. The very next minute Messi attempted to break the deadlock with a 20-yard shot, but Oblak was in great position to make the stop. The Slovenian, however, did push the rebound to a dangerous spot, but just before Suarez could tap the ball in Juanfran cleared the rebound away.
Rarely has any team put Atletico's defense to such a test, but the visitors somehow still managed to keep their net untouched. That, however, would change in the 63rd minute. After receiving the ball on the right wing, Alves sent a very useful ball to the left side of the area, where Alba escaped coverage and quickly shot/passed the ball toward goal. Right in front of goal Suarez found a soft-spot in coverage and tapped the ball in to tie the game at one.
Immediately after the goal Lucho made his first substitution of the game, taking off the not-fully-fit Rakitić and replaced him with the recently returned Rafinha. Both teams needed a breather after that onslaught, but Barcelona would quickly return to the offensive, and after a couple of promising yet unfinished attacks Barcelona took the lead in the 74th minute. Messi beautifully found Alves open on the right wing and the Brazilian wasted no time in sending a perfect cross to the middle. There the Atletico defense forgot about Suarez who connected excellently with the ball, sending a powerful header on target, just out of reach of Oblak to put Barcelona in the lead.
Quickly after the goal, Simeone brought some fresh legs on the pitch, taking off Griezmann and replacing him with Thomas Partey. Enrique would then in quick succession make his last two changes, first taking off Busquets and then Iniesta. They were replaced by Sergi Roberto and Arda Turan.
In the 85th minute Barcelona would create their last good scoring chance of the game, with Messi going on a run right up the gut straight into the heart of the area. There he collided with Gabi, but despite the heavy contact the referee waved play on. Barcelona did launch a couple more attacks in remaining time, including the five minute period of added time, but the Catalans wouldn't test Oblak anymore.
The second leg will be played on Wednesday, 13 April, and Atletico Madrid will have to score to advance, which will certainly allow Barcelona more space in attack than they saw today in the first half. But before these two excellent teams meet again, Barcelona will travel to Anoeta to clash with Real Sociedad while Atletico Madrid will take on Espanyol in Barcelona.
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