A midweek 7-0 (which has been described by club personnel as “one of the worst defeats in Valencia’s club history”) and two club statements issued from the board in quick succession in which they “demand respect”, one for an email spying scandal case against former club president Sandro Rosell and one involving a press spat with Neymar Sr., the 0-2 win on Sunday at noon against Levante was an uneventful end to an eventful week.
Back in 2014, a match against Atlético Madrid meant the impossibility of scoring, that if the rojiblancos nicked a single goal a win was impossible. Before that, Pep Guardiola’s Barça routinely went head-to-head with Atleti in unpredictable matches with wild scorelines. Luis Enrique’s Barça, however, do exactly what is needed, no more, no less – especially in its second season as players begin to tire. That uncanny ability is arguably Luis Enrique’s strongest accomplishment, and it was the defining feature of the clash at Camp Nou on Saturday.
This was supposed to be a new look Atlético, but Cholo is still dressed in black. Offensive reinforcements – Vietto, Jackson, Carrasco – were supposed to change the overall philosophy of Simeone’s side, reinvigorate an attack that had lost Diego Costa, and force Cholo for the first time in his career to prioritize fitting attacking players into what is primarily a defensive system. It was an exciting new project, though it now feels like a stale piece of misguided optimism, even as they sit in second place.
This isn’t the easiest game on the schedule. Though a neither here nor there 12th place in the table Málaga provide awkward encounters. This season alone they’ve defeated Atlético Madrid (1-0), Celta Vigo (2-0), managed a 0-0 draw at the Bernabéu and made Barça grind out a 1-0 win at Camp Nou in August. All that said, Barça know the pressure is ever on not to slip up. With Atlético providing the title challenge expected in the summer and Real Madrid’s galáctios freed from Rafa’s rigidness, the race in Spain is one where draws are defeats and defeats are disasters.
Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. There’s nothing Mateu Lahoz could have done but have sent Athletic’s Gorka Iraizoz off for an obvious foul in the area that prohibited a goal scoring opportunity. Such is the letter of the law and such was the end of this match as a contest. Lionel Messi stepped up to put in the penalty and over the next 90 minutes Barça rampaged Athletic despite not shifting out of second or third gear. Neymar was again exquisite and Luis Súarez notched his third hat-trick for the club which took his season’s stats to 29 goals and 11 assists in 29 games. Yes, those figures are correct. Athletic Club have now visited Camp Nou 12 times consecutively without a result.