Atlético de Madrid hosted FC Barcelona in the league to the chorus of “Que Viva España” and other less friendly chants. Barcelona’s form had been slowly improving from the months of draws and close losses, but culés balanced precariously on the divide between belief and disbelief. After this match, one thing does not have to be questioned any longer — the dedication and strength of this team.
Head coach Pep Guardiola returned to a fairly familiar lineup. The strong starting eleven, only missed Piqué at center-back. In all, Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Cesc, and Messi began the game on the pitch.
The match was intense from the start. In just the first few minutes, there were nervy moments for both teams that almost resulted in goals. Goalkeepers Valdés and Courtois were forced to defend their nets repeatedly.
The 8th minute produced the first goal of the evening. Unfortunately for the blaugrana, it was disallowed. Messi came storming through the box after an assist from Alexis and powered the ball into the back of the net. During his run though, Messi handled the ball and was subsequently yellow carded. This was Messi’s fifth yellow of the season, so he will be suspended for next weekend’s league match against Sporting Gijón.
Players were slipping all over the pitch, which could maybe be an excuse for the abundance of fouls. Malicious or not, the challenges were flying, and one led to a free kick for Barcelona at the top of the box. Xavi stepped up and struck a marvelous ball that looped over the wall and almost into the top corner, but Courtois made the diving save.
In the 23rd minute, Godín followed Messi in the referee’s book for bringing down Alexis. Just two minutes later, Juanfran also received a yellow card for clipping Messi from behind. The yellow card parade continued in the 30th minute when Turan was shown a card for a challenge on Cesc.
Six minutes later, Alves converted Barcelona’s first legal goal. The team goal reminisced of the beginning of this season before the league table woes. Messi passed the ball to Cesc on the left of the box who slid a cross over to Alves on the right. Alves then just had to guide the ball into the net. The master of swag stayed true to his name by dancing in celebration and dedicating his goal to his children.
In the first minute of added time, Cesc performed a very reckless challenge on Juanfran that was not ignored by the referee or his cards.
At the half Barcelona dominated possession 76 percent to 24 percent. The one goal lead did not look entirely safe, though, especially with the fervent level Altético was playing at.
As if to prove a point, Atlético scored just three minutes after the second half began. Falcao punched the ball into the net with his right foot after a poorly cleared corner by Xavi. The equalizer reinvigorated the Madrid men and brought the game to an even higher level.
In the 61st minute, Tiago was shown a yellow card for taking down Messi. Goal scorer Alves received a similar punishment nine minutes later for off the ball contact with fellow Brazilian Filipe. Just after his booking, Alves was subbed off in favor of Cuenca.
The yellow card train rolled on in the 74th minute when Koke fouled Messi and was doled a yellow card. Yet another card was given to Alexis three minutes later when a front of goal scramble led to a handball by the Chilean.
Soon after, Atlético made a substitution of Koke off for Salvio. Two minutes later, Barcelona did likewise with Cesc being replaced by Pedro. Yet another foul led to a free kick on the edge of the Atlético box and this time it was converted.
Messi took the quick free kick and sailed the ball straight into the inside of the far side netting. Atlético was frustrated that Barcelona was back in the lead after what they thought was an unfair kick, and Miranda was yellow carded for dissent.
Teammate Falcao also was warned with a card in the 85th minute after a tackle on Mascherano. Just after, Piqué made an appearance from the bench and changed with Alexis. Atlético also made a switch of Silvio off for Turan.
The last action of the match was (surprise!) a yellow card. This one was for Busquets, possibly for an uncalled handball during Atlético’s last corner.
As evidenced by Puyol’s post-final whistle collapse, the game was intense. Atlético remained true to its season of rough play, but Barcelona coped (and played along) well. The 10 point gap from Real Madrid’s first place in La Liga stays intact and the team is rebuilding back to its early season prowess. It is a long and slow process, but Barcelona is regaining its strength and performance as a team. If anything, it always feels good to win in Madrid.
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