Atletico Madrid welcomed La Liga rivals Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals at Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night.
The highly-anticipated match lived up to the expectations as it turned out to be highly eventful game with both teams dominating in each of the halves.
Barcelona’s impressive performance in the first half was however enough for the Catalans to gain the upper hand ahead of the return match at Camp Nou and here are the five things we learned tonight:
Barca deserved their win, but Atletico did not deserve to lose
Contrasting claim? Exactly, but that is arguably the most precise way to describe the openly-contested match we saw unfold at Vicente Calderon.
Barcelona have dominated the possession with 60% in the first have with eight attempts on goal and with a largely dominated performance against the Madrid-based club. The visitors were way too good for the hosts in the first half of the game as Luis Suarez’s wonder-goal and Leo Messi’s superb surprising shot out of the box put the Catalans two up and flying.
Diego Simeone’s men were knocked down and completely out of the match, but the charismatic manager knew just what to do to turn the game around. Having decided to bring in more firepower upfront and unleash Fernando Torres for Vrsaljko, Gaitan for Niguez and Gameiro for Carrasco, Diego Simeone changed the pace of the game and had his team play the way he wants and loves.
Rojiblancos were quick to get one back to the Catalans as Griezmann made amends for his poor first-half showings, but the barrage of attacks and advances towards Cillessen’s goal remained futile much to the disappointment of the frantic home crowd.
Therefore, romantically speaking, Atletico Madrid did not deserve to lose the game and lacked a bit of luck in the end to stage the full comeback against the groggy rivals after the interval.
Antoine Griezmann’s head was not in the game…well for the good part of it at least
Is the flirtation with Manchester United taking its toll on the French forward? Of course, not, but the timing of Antoine Griezmann’s seeming slump in form is disturbing.
The powerful striker did not show the slightest bit of his explosive nature throughout the first half and three lost possessions within the first twenty minutes of the game were pretty much illustrative of his overall performance during the first 45 minutes against Barcelona.
Five goals in last seven matches for Diego Simeone’s side would be considered an astonishing tally by the optimal football standards, but the fact such a prolific striker as Griezmann almost failed to score – and failed to impress more importantly – in back-to-back games for Atletico Madrid is a worrying sign.
The French international made amends for his poor first-half showings at the hour-mark when he soared in the box to latch on the ball with a header which ended up in the back of Barcelona net.
In a moment characteristic for great players, which Antoine Griezmann unquestionably is, the 25-year-old showed displayed his true value with a touch of brilliance and a truly terrific header inside the right post which was out of Cillessen’s reach.
The French forward benefited from the introduction of Torres and Gameiro, who released a bit of pressure from the Barcelona defenders and Griezmann was given more freedom in the final third he attempted and came agonizingly close to utilizing in the end.
Barcelona in good position to continue incredible record
The triumph against Atletico Madrid puts Barcelona in a good position ahead of the return match at Camp Nou where Barcelona will try to wrap up the deal and secure their place in the Copa del Rey final.
Having so far won 28 Copa del Rey trophies, the Catalans are the untouchables of the Cup competition with the reputation that has been strengthened over the past decade which is enough of a fact to provide the Camp Nou side with a valuable morale boost ahead of the return match.
Namely, Barcelona have played six Copa del Rey finals in last nine years and find themselves en route of their seventh with a comfortable cushion against Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona’s most recent form offers great promise and only one defeat in last 19 matches across all competitions is there to attest it.
Mascherano’s defensive role a decisive one as well
An injury to Sergio Busquets forced Luis Enrique to make some tactical tweaks in his Barcelona squad. And while some may call it a temporary and a forced switch, Javier Mascherano’s return to defensive midfield role is everything but a contingency plan.
Enrique did it earlier in the season with Andre Gomes being slotted in as the defensive midfield pivot, but as Mascherano’s more compelling Cup performance against Real Sociedad demonstrated, the Argentine international is a logical choice for the vacant position in the team.
Former Liverpool man thrived in his natural midfield role, controlling the centre of the pitch with his timely runs and interceptions, while at the same time providing support for the back line, offering foundation for the front three and doing the dirty work when needed as well.
Given the fact he spent most part of his Barcelona career thus far playing in the middle of defense, we seem to have forgotten what his natural position was and just how good he can get in front of the defensive line.
Atletico’s decline in form becoming a burning issue
Heading into the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final at their home ground, Atletico Madrid were keen not to dwell too much on their current form.
In fact, both Rojiblancos and Blaugrana were coming off from weekend stalemates and Cholo’s boys were hoping the Wednesday’s match would mark the end to their three-match underperforming spell.
What they got instead is a frustrating loss on the back of three consecutive draws, which will have raised plenty of questions and piled pressure on Diego Simeone.
As Atletico Madrid sit in fourth place in the standings, ten points behind league leaders Real Madrid, their La Liga season as good as over and Copa del Rey was meant to offer a consolation prize for Diego Simeone’s men.
The first leg offers little comfort and reason to be optimistic however, despite the goal tonight, as Atletico Madrid’s troubling decline in form continues.
ATLETICO MADRID: Moya 6.5 – Vrsaljko 6 (Torres 7), Savic 6, Godin 7, Filipe Luis 7 – Juanfran 7, Gabi 7, Niguez 6 (Gaitan 6.5), Koke 6.5 – Griezmann 7, Carrasco 6.5 (Gameiro 6)
Unused subs: Bare, Correa, Lucas, Moreira
BARCELONA: Cillessen 6.5 – Roberto 6.5, Pique 7, Umtiti 6.5, Alba 6.5 – Mascherano 7.5 – Rakitic 6.5 (Suarez 6), Gomes 6 (Rafinha 6) – Messi 7.5, Suarez 7.5, Neymar 7
Unused subs: Masip, Mathieu, Paco, Turan, Vidal
REFEREE: Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea
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