Rarely in football do you sincerely think “that was bloody brilliant”. Obviously I’m not referring to the second half (except for Arda Turan’s wonderful moment of theatre), but that first half was one of wonderful ebb and flow. It started with a bang, then an elegant rebuttal, an unsurprising controversy, a swift reply and finally it ended with a bang. Instead of being called for a clear handball, Jordi Alba burst the length of the field to superbly assist Neymar’s winner on a night the Brazilian sparkled. Down 2-3 at the half (2-4 on aggregate), Neymar finally had enough of the relentless fouling, got into Gabi’s face and then stood up to Fernando Torres. Eventually that concluded with Gabi being sent off during the break and viewers needing a double take when Atlético took to the field curiously a man down.
I must say, there’s been few firmer admirers and supporters of Atletí but lately it feels things are getting nasty. The soldier “never say die” mentality is shifting into a bit of a sore loser routine. The Atlético guys seem to genuinely believe they’re being wronged despite cynical and excessive physical fouls that are blatantly obvious. Whether a direct consequence or not, it was poetic that referee Gil Manzano had to ask for a new disappearing spray can with 10 minutes still to spare. He blew over thirty fouls and distributed 13 yellow cards (10 to Atlétio Madrid) as well as 2 red cards. Barça were unable to beat Atletí in six attempts last year, they’ve now won three times in barely over two weeks with an aggregate score-line of 7-3. Something seems to be happening at FC Barcelona.