Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go: Yes, dropping two points when we had the chance to gain ground on Real Madrid is a disappointment, without a shadow of a doubt. A quick look at the way Atletico scored makes you want to pull out your hair even more; a completely avoidable goal that was the result of a momentary lapse in concentration from two players (Pique and Mascherano) who were absolute beasts otherwise.
On the other hand, however, if someone had told me before the game that we would lose both Lionel Messi and Sergi Busquets to injury, with Suarez having one of his quietest games in a Blaugrana shirt, but still come out with a 1-1 draw, I would take it, and quite happily. Atletico Madrid is a direct title rival and among the five best teams in the world. There is absolutely no shame in dropping two points to such a team.
In terms of today’s result then, there’s no two ways to go about it except to accept it and move on. The season is still only a few games old and titles are never won in September, as I’m sure Luis Enrique will be telling his squad in order to get them up and it again. What’s more important to think about is how the players performed both as a whole and as part of a unit.
The game as a whole was a case of Barca trying to break down the Atleti wall, as they always have to try to do when Cholo Simeone comes to town. Whereas this season Atletico have been trying to be more attacking, by their own standards, Simeone preferred to sit back and hope for a goal on the counter against a team that can hurt you lethally if given any space.
This was a perfect example of a game where the front-line was very well contained, but the midfield and defense stepped up so well that it didn’t hurt the Blaugrana too much. Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic had almost perfect games and showed that they do perform on the biggest stage, when it matters most. In the 2015 Champions League final Don Andres assisted Rakitic for the opener, and he did the same for Goldilocks again at the Camp Nou. Atletico were looking comfortable and seemed to be heading into half-time level, just how they would want it to be. They never expected Iniesta to whip in a cross from his normal position in midfield. They never expected Rakitic to be making a run in behind their defense to get to said cross. That is exactly what happened though. 1-0 to Barca, with our two midfielders combining brilliantly to set things up for a few more in the second half.
It was my understanding Barca would kick on, find space as Atletico became more adventurous and score a couple more, optimistically. I could not have been any more wrong than I was. First, Sergio Busquets went off and was replaced by Andre Gomes due to some stomach discomfort. It has to be said that the Portuguese played quite well and was not at all at fault for the goal, a gem of a player and one to look forward to. To make things worse, Messi’s groin problems went from bad to worse and off he went as well, with the news now filtering out that he will miss three weeks. Arda Turan came on and didn’t have a very effective game, but to be fair neither did the best player in the world.
Whether it was a case of the forwards having an off night or Diego Godin and co. marking them out of the game, Barca had to rely a lot more on their midfield and Ney than they usually have to. After conceding a shock goal that came from a quick free-kick, they recovered and even threatened at times, but couldn’t find another way through.
A lot of the post-match talk focused on Messi and him rushing back before he was fully recovered. The fact of the matter is that he isn’t 24 anymore, and he needs to give his body time to heal, and heal completely, before he can play in a game as competitive as this one. He naturally wants to play all the time, but he can’t and should not unless he’s fully fit. No other way around it.
As I’ve already mentioned, the midfielders had a stellar game and showed the world that Barca is far more than just the ‘MSN’ triumvirate. Let’s hope they can keep this level of performance up for the rest of the season, especially Don Andres, who at 32 moves about like a youth-team player on his debut.
Sergi Roberto; what do I say about him that hasn’t already been said? For him to be so comfortable in a novel position, at the best club in the world, requires immense talent, intelligence, and hard work. I sincerely hope the rumors of the club pursuing Bellerin are just that, rumors, because if Roberto stays fit we won’t miss Dani Alves at all. No higher compliment I can give him.
Let’s not complain about the defense or the attack today, cules. We know how good this team is and how good the opposition was today as well. There’s still a long way to go in the season but if we keep rotating, ensure our players are fully fit when they play and believe in Lucho we can go all the way, once again. Slip-ups happen, but it’s better that they occur now than at the end of the season. Visca el Barca!