Barcelona failed to make ground on Real Madrid as a one-all draw against Atletico Madrid resulted in the big three all earning one point. Ivan Rakitić scored for Barcelona while Angel Correa set the final score, but more than the score-line, the biggest cause for worry are the injuries to Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi.
Both teams started the match with expected starting lineups. Also as expected, Barcelona controlled the ball from the opening kickoff, with Atletico patiently waiting for chances on the counter attack. Because of that Atletico mentality Barcelona oftentimes passed around a tightly congested Atletico defensive third.
In the early going, the visitors very rarely strung together more than three passes because of their reluctance to move forward, but while Barcelona were passing circles around the Atletico area, they struggled to get inside 30-yards of Jan Oblak’s goal. Barcelona’s first official shot came from a Rakitić attempt, but Oblak had no trouble whatsoever. In the 14th minute, Oblak was again called into action, with Messi firing from 25-yards out, but the Slovenian was in perfect position to stop the shot.
A couple minutes later Atletico launched their first dangerous attack of the game, with Yannick Carrasco firing a curling effort from the left side of the box, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen parried the shot. The following minute Atletico threatened again, again down the left side, but Antoine Griezmann’s centering effort was cleared away at the last second by Javier Mascherano. The follow-up attempt from Filipe Luis went high and wide.
Barcelona followed up Atletico’s mini pressure with an attack of their own, but again the shot had to come from the perimeter and again Oblak was in perfect position to make what could’ve been a difficult save look easy.
The two sides proceeded to treat fans to an intense midfield battle with no chances to speak off until the 33rd minute, when Jordi Alba sent a very dangerous ball to the middle to Luis Suarez, who fired first-time, but his attempt was excellently blocked by his compatriot Diego Godin. Just moments later Barcelona shouted for a penalty kick as both Gabi and Saul appeared to handle the ball on the same play, but referee David Fernández Borbalán waved play on.
Barcelona continued to squeeze the area around Oblak’s defensive wall of ten players. First, in the 36th minute, Neymar fired from 20 yards out, but his shot whistled wide of the far post. The hosts then tried, like they did in a couple of the previous games, to outplay the defense with some incredible technique and close quarters passing on the edge of the area, but the Atletico defense would have none of that.
But despite Atletico’s best efforts, the Catalans managed to celebrate the lead before the halftime whistle – from arguably the unlikeliest of sources – a corner kick. The corner kick was played short, with Neymar playing the ball to Andres Iniesta who wasted little time and sent a perfect cross to the far side, seemingly right on the head of Rakitić, who gave the ball a slight nudge, just enough to direct it inside of the post, with Oblak looking helplessly.
Atletico looked to threaten at the death, but their 30-yard free kick sailed harmlessly out of play. Ter Stegen played the goal-kick short, and after a couple of under pressure passes between the center-back duo, Sergi Roberto went on a long run, carrying the ball deep into Atletico area. There he found Suarez who extended the play to Messi, who looked destined to end the counter attack with a goal, but his shot was blocked by Stefan Savić. Immediately after that opportunity the referee whistled for halftime.
As soon as the play restarter Atletico threatened through a 20-yard Griezmann low shot, but ter Stegen was able to stretch out and make the save. Barcelona countered with Roberto and Suarez combining on the right side with the play ending with a Messi shot, but again Savić was there to block the shot. The back and forth action continued with Atletico going back on the attack, but this time Gerard Pique made a couple excellent clearances.
The start to the half signaled a different approach Atletico would take – expected considering Simeone’s side were down 1-0 and were in need of a goal. Luis Enrique surprisingly quickly turned to his bench as he made his first change already in the 51st minute. Another surprise came when it was announced that Andre Gomes would replace Sergio Busquets, and not one of the attacking oriented players on the pitch.
That brought on speculation that the midfielder might be nursing an injury, which might have been the reason why Busquets missed the weekend game against Leganes. Five minutes later, Lucho had to deal with another massive blow as Messi was clipped from behind and immediately started holding his groin. Messi tried to continue but Enrique quickly warmed up Arda Turan and brought the Turkish international on the pitch in the 59th minute.
Simeone also made a couple of changes, quickly trying to take advantage of Barcelona’s misfortune, bringing on Correa and Fernando Torres. The first substitution paid immediate dividends as with his first touch, Correa tied the game at one. For Barcelona fans it was like a bad comedy as the initial pass went through the legs of Pique and when it appeared Mascherano would defuse the situation, the Argentine slipped, leaving the Atletico forward alone in front of ter Stegen. Correa fired a low shot out of ter Stegen’s reach that bounced in off the right post.
Without two of their key players, Barcelona’s task of adding three points to their total looked insurmountable. But as soon as they equalized, Atletico pulled back and again started to wait for their chances on the counter attack. Barcelona was therefore again able to spend much time in the visitors’ half, but breaking through that organized defense again proved a tall task. Neymar did fire a very threatening shot in the 65th minute, but Oblak was there to make the save. The Brazilian had an excellent chance again ten minutes later, this time from a free kick, but Savić blocked the shot in the wall.
Neymar continued to be Barcelona’s main spark-provider in Messi’s absence, and he again tried his luck in the 79th minute. This time he was excellently found by Rakitić, but with no support in the middle, he was forced to take a tough shot from the left side that Oblak did very well to fight off. Neymar turned provider in the 83rd minute with a lovely free kick from near the left sideline. In the middle, Pique rose highest and aimed for the far post, but the ball missed the target by mere inches. Barcelona would create another excellent chance three minutes later on the counter attack, but Jordi Alba’s shot was deflected out of play for a corner kick from which Barcelona didn’t threaten.
Atletico very rarely threatened since equalizing, they patiently waited for openings on the counter attack. Barcelona mostly dealt with these attacks with relative ease, but Godin did put a very accurate header on goal in the 88th minute, though ter Stegen was able to tip over the crossbar. Three minutes of added time went by without much excitement and Barcelona failed to win already their second game at the Camp Nou.