Atleti 2, Barça 3 (agg. 2-4), aka “The Shoe Olympics”


Do you know how mad you have to be to throw a shoe at someone? Think about it. You’re at work, and something happens. Let’s say someone or thing has been vexing you for most of a workday. What does it take to finally, finally get you to snap and … off comes the shoe.

Arda Turan’s moment really typified what was a bonkers football match today. He threw his shoe at an official in a fit of pique (rather than Pique, who was sublime) over a call not made during a match in which Barça attackers were the equivalent of foot pinatas. Turan’s gesture was about futility, about an acceptance that this was it, and yet it was so much more.

This team has come of age. Coming face to face with the neighborhood bully can place a great many demands upon you, but at the core it comes down to fight or flight. When Diego Simeone took over Atleti he began the task of fashioning them into a fist — one capable of the hard foul, certainly — that could take on the best teams in the league and triumph by virtue of simply being a better team. The best players? Nope. But the best team, that went to war, fought for each other, fought for every possession and every ball.

Last season, Barça had nothing for that team, establishing a record of futility that led to watching someone else’s Liga victory parade and viewing the Champions League final on TV. And even though last year was a mess, there was a certain emotional fragility about that Barça. They beat RM twice, but it wasn’t the Mourinho RM. It was a calmer, more elegant version that was willing to play football. Atleti got in Barça’s face, and it flinched.

This year, as the season began an the team struggled with a new system and a way of playing, people were already giving things up and declaring everything lost, as lost as that mythical Way. Some cautioned patience, not only with the way the team was playing but with the man in charge of that side, that the system would come into place as would a preferred XI. But football in these modern times is a game of history and impatience, a world of ghosts and statistics in which armchair savants spout formations and tendencies, and make proclamations based on those notions.

Meanwhile, a team was coming together, a team that manifested the fruits of those labors in three matches against its most fearsome rival.


If someone had said to a culer at the beginning of this season that Barça would face Atleti three times and go 3-0, laughter would have been the response, that kind of “Foool, you cray!” howling with which we greet a truly cockamamie notion. And yet at this juncture of the season, in Liga and Copa, Barça is 3-0 vs Atleti. No squeaking by on away goals, but getting it done first at home and then in a roiling tempest of a Calderon whose denizens were cheering for more fouls when it was clear that the match was lost.

From that violent cauldron emerged your football team, and a team you should be proud as hell of, if you already aren’t. It didn’t even seem that extraordinary an accomplishment, as the matches were won in three very different ways:

— A high-energy dismantling
— A coarse, ugly scrum
— A wide-open, violent crazyfest

In all three, Barça played many different ways from beautiful, flowing football to hunkering down for battle. What the three wins have in common is backbone. This year’s team isn’t fragile. Has it taken on the jut-jawed character of its boss? Dunno. But it definitely has a character, that is for absolutely zero crap. We should leave the tactics for others because in athletics, a moment is often about a player or team deciding that this, today, is enough. It stops here. There is that small elevation of the game, a greater degree of intensity and suddenly, things are different.

Simeone credited the intensity of this Barça, which is immense praise. Barça was always a more talented footballing side than Atleti, but that wasn’t the point. Football at Barça had, over the years, almost become reduced to this theoretical exercise in beauty, a world of triangles and curlicues. Fire ebbed as pass counts grew, and the purists took heart in numbers of passes and rondos as increasingly, an opponent with a fraction of the completed passes and possession managed to get results.

This year, Barça is intense. It’s also willing to play in many different ways to beat an opponent, unhindered by adherence to a Way that becomes a dogmatic resistance to a new world in which opponents are big, fast and physical and are allowed to use that advantage by an officiating world that seems as tired of hearing about and seeing Barça as many opponents are.

As people race to credit various tactical things to the win today, breaking the match down to a bloodless dissection, for me it was very visceral and bloody as hell. It was fast, messy, disjointed and intense as can be, the kind of match where past Barça sides would have been found wanting in the wake of the years of dominance, where the ball moved fast and opponents not fast enough.

The Copa return leg went awry early and often, in the presence of a Fernando Torres (of ALL people!) goal that equalized the tie on aggregate, along with incessant, high-energy pressing of the type that signified a team wanting to get it done at home, that believed Barça was still the team that could be pushed around, those guys from last year.

But this year, there was none of that getting a break, stopping the ball to let the attack form and make triangles. Press this team and it sends a player running of the shoulder of your defense, or executes a bust-out counterattack that never slows down until the ball is in the net. As one journalist said on Twitter, “I don’t recognize this Barça, but it sure is competitive.”

It’s the kind of change that doesn’t happen on the pitch but in the mind. A team goes into a complexity and comes out the other side different. Tactically, it’s easy to explain: Atleti had to press, which left them exposed on the counter, and that was that. It’s the psychological side that is more complex and vastly more interesting. Was it elections? Was there in fact, despite player denials, some dressing room row that got resolved? Did the team finally decide to go all in with Enrique? Did Enrique finally get then to understand what he has been trying to do with the superstar front and solid back? Who the heck knows.

Two counterattacks and a set piece is how Barça scored today, an accounting that is as absurd as it is almost laughable. Atleti scored a lightning goal, then when Barça answered, Atleti was gifted a penalty that wasn’t even a foul much less a penalty, as it occurred outside the box. A Ter Stegen assist became a bungled offside call instead of a glorious end-to-end goal by Neymar. Fate gave Barça every chance to flinch, but it wasn’t interested in any of them. That the header for the set piece goal came from Busquets, the frailest of them all, says something about the team’s attitude today. Yes, some help from Atleti’s Miranda was required, but cool sporting stories always require a bit of luck to go along with the style and happy story. Today was no exception.

Enrique ran the sidelines and pumped his fist, exploding in emotion after the first equalizing goal. That Messi wasn’t needed as the entire team stepped up to become as much of a team as Atleti but ultimately a more talented one, and that talent was as much as the difference as the want.

Neymar wound up and riled up, scoring two lovely goals in the process that were facilitated by his front line mates, Suarez on the first and Messi on the second. Jordi Alba bent space and time, blocking a shot at one end and then giving the assist to Neymar in the Atleti box, all in the same sequence.


And Turan threw his shoe.

It’s hard to know what you’re seeing sometimes, as eloquence is reduced to “Holy crap, what just happened.” Is is really as simple as a team coming of age?

Logically, the reasons are many: Messi is fit, Neymar is a sensation, Suarez is a presence that makes the defense worry, the defense is more solid. You can look at all of these things and make assumptions based on sound, objective principles. But how would Barça play when it got smacked in the mouth? What of that plan then? Just as when Enrique took abuse he just stuck out his jaw and said, essentially, “The hell with y’all, I know what I’m doing,” the team took the hit and got better. It played better, and took advantage of an opponent whose view was obscured by red mist.

The headlines blare “Barça beat nine-man Atleti,” glib facility that ignores the reality that this match effectively ended with the third goal, when Atleti had to score 3 goals in a half, against a defense that finally remembered how it was supposed to play. Halftime handbags at the break led to Atleti playing with 10 in the second half. That 10 became 9 with less than 10 minutes to go, when the already decided outcome became an affirmation as Barça just kept the ball and got fouled by Atleti.

And nobody is quite sure what we saw today because extraordinary, inexplicable things are often like that. This match isn’t about the Copa, a tertiary competition that really gains importance for the team that isn’t able to get any big trophies. This match is about staring down the bully and punching it in the face, about a club coming to vibrant, glorious life right before our still-unbelieving eyes.

However or whyever it happened really doesn’t matter, just as the result is about more than the final tally. It’s about a team … your team, our team … and the ugly ways that it made beauty.


By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Austin Powers: That really hurt! I’m gonna have a lump there, you idiot! Who throws a shoe? Honestly! You fight like a woman!

    1. Hahaha good one. But I thought he said ‘honestly, who throws a shoe?”. But that moment actually reminded me of 2 incidents in the past. The Iraqi guy who threw a shoe to Bush and Julio Cruz (ex-Inter who beat us in 2010). While he was playing for Feyenoord he dived and threw his shoe away pretending that it came off due to a tackle. Me and my friends went to the Feyenoord training ground and we asked for his shoes 😆 Unfortunately he said no.

  2. My first post here and I just wanted to say that this was a great read, and really highlights the beauty and triumph within the chaos that was that match.

    Pity about that Godin dismissal as it ruined the rest of the game, but I suppose the meltdown of our “bully” was about as important to the players and culers as was the win.

    1. Or Godin getting a 2nd or 3rd yellow card in the 1st leg which meant that he’ll miss this match?

  3. What a display. I doubt that we could pull this off in previous seasons. Mascherano almost threw the game away with his amateurish pass and defending. A few years back I used to really get pissed off at our defenders and gk for always playing floating long balls to the center. It is so easy for the defenders to intercept coming from the back. That is how I always intercept against other teams. You either play short or straight to the forwards.

    I’m glad Neymar was taken off. I don’t really like him goading the opponents. I said it last season too. It brings negative vibe and he might get himself injured. The seniors should talk to him.

    Xavi should’ve definitely come on in the 2nd half. Lucho needs to give him game time whenever possible. If it continues like this, he might leave at the end of the season. It’s not just about giving Xavi minutes for the sake of it but we needed to kill the match slowly and Xavi is perfect for it. We did well but could’ve been better with Xavi. Good thing is that the team knows how to do it without Xavi.

    Messi made 2 assists to assist makers. Incredible. Best playmaker.

    Alba could join the Spanish Navy to become a diver. Unbelievable lung capacity. I didn’t notice the runner as my eyes were fixed on Messi but was so surprised that he was the one who received the ball and squared it to Neymar. I shook my head in disbelief. Not Messi magic but just amazing superhuman ability.

    The commentator was jizzing in his pants over Torres even long after the goal. Every touch (which was only a handful throughout the match) was continued by a minute long talk of Torres. It’s so premature to say that he’s back when he scored 2 goals vs Madrid and 1 goal vs Barca (but was anonymous) and he didn’t do anything last week. Nothing against him but I really thought these commentators should know better.

  4. I hope all of AM’s “underdog” goodwill after last year, what a bunch of thugs. Very little to analyze “tactically” from this match for me, it was all over the place, I never thought I’d see so many longballs and counters, completely bypassing the mid, oh well, it’s a joy seeing Messi and Co. do their thing.

  5. The financial imbalance in La Liga has made Atletico a welcome third force. It somehow guarantees that whatever they do they retain the neutral’s backing.

    But they are a dirty fouling outfit who should be called out and punished. Doubly glad that we stood up to them and played an intense match. Could not watch the match though. Onwards and upwards

  6. thanks for another great read proud of our guys today..

    -i cant imagine what messi’s and neymar’s legs look like today..those guys took a nasty beatings..and it wasnt just hacks, but cleats on skin (sock)..once the game was out of reach, i was actually worried for our guys..

    -clearly outside the box foul for their penalty..its a shame we can see it on reply 15 seconds after the play, but the referee cant.

    -how does throwing a shoe not get a straight red??? arent the linesmen and the referees connected with those headsets..the linesmen didnt say-“hey, he threw a shoe at me?” if he would have hit the linesmen, there still wouldnt have been a punishment? does it matter if the shoe hits or not? embarrasing refereeing if you ask me..does not set a good example…

    -messi’s passing..if the placement wasnt precise enough, the weight of his passes is unbelievable..he caresses the ball to his teammates..the pass to jordi alba before the assist was unreal..hes in a full sprint, takin on 2 defenders, looks up and places a sitter of the highest quality inside the starting to get more turned on by his passes then his goals.

    -neymar doesnt finish that first goal last gets blocked or goes wide.. but when that ball was played to him yesterday, he and everyone else knew he was going to bury it. what an immense talent. and he and messi really seem to get along…and as a sidenote, that was an awesome punt from ter stegen to set up the breakaway / disallowed show that neymar was not offside…

    an amazing performance..and just a couple weeks ago we were “in a crisis”…i wasnt though, and never am with this team…i am always indebted to this team for the neverending beauty and joy it brings me..its like the most beautiful painting i have ever seen..that i can stare at for 90 minutes twice a week for more than a dozen years and never think about getting tired of..

  7. Well, I don’t have anything against the approach to the first half, rather than try to build from the back and midfield and play right into the hands of atletico, we by-passed their waves of pressure in our half and midfield to get directly to our attackers and it worked. I always knew things would calm down in the second half when athletico had tired out. Though I didn’t like the fact that we were clearing balls out so close to our 18yard box which kept the pressure going. That penalty wasn’t even a foul and wasn’t even in the box, horrible refereeing in both legs. Well, I think its time we start believing in this team and LE, yes LE! I haven’t always had faith in him but I wanna start having faith in him and it’s obvious the heightened criticism brought out the best in him and the team. We wouldn’t lose the classico with this attitude last year. Messi is becoming a more mature player and an all round player than Ronaldo season by season, he is not obsessed with scoring, he just wants to help his team win in any way and doesn’t keep malice with his team mate when they don’t pass him the ball for a tapping. I love his attitude and to hell with the balon d’or. We can not always win all but let’s keep up in this direction and nice article Kxevin thanks for your new Messi like attitude towards this blog lol. And a shout out to Neymar, boy is on fire!

  8. Oh and I forgot to add, it’s good to have a coach who doesn’t buy the ‘we attack no matter the result’ philosophy. Wisdom is profitable to lead and to direct. I am a fan of lightning speed counterattacks too, I always envied Madrid and got pained anytime we had a chance to launch one and Xavi did a 360 that allowed opponents to settle into banks of four so we could do our little triangles and everyone will like us again. We surely have the copa in the bag now, on to the UCL and la liga

    1. Well, without wishing to offer them any helpful advice they need to have a good look at Ramos. He’s been responsible for quite a few costly errors this season – in fact from the Netherlands game in the WC onwards.

  9. Love the article! Great read.

    In the post match interview Gabi talked about Neymars gestures … what does he mean? All I saw on TV was them kicking him like crazy

  10. My respect for them continues to shrink
    @barcastuff: Cani (Atletico): “With the way Neymar is playing – doing nutmegs, talking – he will have a problem one day. But if he likes it that way…”

    1. He will have a problem one day ?
      That’s sounds like a threat.
      What the hell is wrong with this lot?!

    2. I think, after every trick Neymar does, he goes on to tease the particular opposition player about how he just beat him, or something like that. That surely can get on to players, especially in a match like this.

      I think, Neymar needs to calm down a bit. There is no wonder he is fouled more, as he seem to lose his cool more and it is quite clear he can be provoked easily. He do have the best example near him and should learn from his colleague.

    3. Atually I don’t mind if neymar throws their rhythm off by back chatting 🙂
      Besides Messi is one off,
      To emulate him ?
      it seems too much to ask for
      & also bullies can’t be reasoned with.
      Although, I get what you’re saying..

    4. I mean, I do like that we have players like Masche and Neymar who can do things back. But with so many liga refs being RM fans, I would hate to lose Neymar to a red card or 2 yellows.

    5. Naah, you can’t justify your hacking with “well, he dribbled past me in an annoying manner.” which is exactly what they are doing. This is the same as the BS “She was asking for it with that dress” defence.

      No need for him to calm down. They can either become better, or they should suffer the consequences.

      I have zero respect for Simeone’s gang of barrio bullies. They suck at losing, just like their stadium and their “supporters”.

      When Messi was hacked down yet again, Calderon screamed “Another, Another!” as in “kick him again”. So fuck them. Sideways. With a rusty pipe.

    6. I didnt say, their hacking is justified, or they hacked because he dribbled past a player. Neymar had 1 dribble in the match, Messi had 6. Why is it that these hackers werent after Messi, if the reason for their hacking is beacause they were dribbled past easily.

      I only said, dribbling a player and then teasing him after will provoke the beaten player.

    7. Like I mentioned earlier, I do not like this aspect of Neymar’s game. He will get seriously hurt one of these days because there are too many players who get butthurt easily. I don’t understand why they feel the need to harm somebody. If I get dribbled or schooled, I just get on with it and try to school him back. But most of the pros can’t take it. Whiny prima donnas.

      But in football or basketball and other major team sports, there are always trash talkers. I don’t like it but it’s not illegal so just get on with it. If you talk back then it’ll invite more but if you just ignore, they will all just ignore you too. Can you imagine players trash talking to Xavi or Iniesta or Messi? Neymar, Suarez are the type of players that are easy targets to get under their skin. Neymar’s done better this season though compared to last season.

  11. Hey guys, we only won this match because of individual talent 🙂
    Hah, but in seriousness, the first half was awesome. So exciting and full of life. This is what football was made for. Shame the second half became a wrestling match.
    Neymar – so clinical with his finishing. We always talk about his dribbling but his finishing is so underrated.
    Messi – Matches like these are why stats are sometimes irrelevant. Played a huge part 2 of the 3 goals but it wont go down in history book. Theres nothign more to be said about him.
    Suarez – He’s playing the ‘Benzema’ role really well IMO. was quite anonymous second half but its understandable.
    Iniesta – he was once again off. I’m not sure whats gotten to him but this season, i just feel he’s not bringing anything to the team. His goals/assist has always been poor for a Att.Mid but theres no incisive passing, not much skills. I understand he’s playing the Xavi role (he’s not always though. He’s usually more advanced then Rakitic) but at least Xavi would come up in dangerous positions.

    Anyways, we’re through, and our players weren’t missing limbs so all positive form this game.

  12. Great article, Kxevin. I’m usually not too fond of so much fighting language (like “punching them in the face”) in non-fighting sports but for yesterday’s game it was very fitting. And the mental/psychological significance of the game is very interesting indeed. I was a bit afraid the team would crumble when Torres scored in the first minute and the whole arena went crazy, but they didn’t. Not at all.

    Their “strategy” for dealing with Messi was disgusting – each time he got the ball near their box he was tripped up, kicked, bruised etc. in the most cynical way. Far too few yellow cards there, and Messi deserves a lot of respect just for not losing it and kicking back at them. I kinda like Simeone but he had those suspensions coming for a long time with the kind of football they play.

  13. That first goal was reminiscent of Mourinhos RM. Messi did what DeMaria did, Suarez played the Ozil, and Neymar did what Ronaldo did.
    The second though, was pure Barca, as it was all about two road runners, Messi and Alba.

    That first half was the most thrilling football in a long time, inspite of all the physical play. And Calderon crowd, incredible, they are cent percent behind. So, congrats to our players to keep their cool and concentrating in their job.

    And inspite of all the foul plays, am still so happy to watch Atletico put up that kind of pressure on us, and for Simeoni. Which coach can make players give their 200%, like this.

    We are in culers, we are in, All Europe beware of us. This Barca is hungry.

    1. I usually download in youtube usually 7/8 hrs after the match. I think it will be available by now. I also have all the match of barca this season starting from pre season match but that UCL match at Camp Nou against Ajax (3-1) could not be found in youtube.
      Good to keep watching in free time.

  14. So, it looks like three Villarreal games as of right now.

    Well, at least there won’t be a game this midweek. The team would get a breather after Sunday.

  15. Just finished watching the game. Typical AM game.
    I cant get it though, how the hell did Mario Suarez survived the first half without being sent off. Of Arda Turan for that matter, or Garcia.
    Whatever, we beat them in their own game.
    As for Neymar, he absolutely did nothing to provoke them. That’s just immaturity from them, shown to someone superior to them, in football terms.
    And before someone say that they weren’t that bad to Messi because of his attitude towards the game, well, they kicked the crap out of him.
    Anyway, the victory tastes sweeter like this.

    1. Yeah, bit of sour grapes from AM.

      Let’s not assume though that we the cup in the bag. All our opponents must be respected and Villarreal have the potential to cause trouble as well. We must be respectful.

      Yes, we have every chance of winning it, but I wont raise a glass until it’s in our hands 🙂

  16. Triple, anyone? 🙂

    Seriously, though, predictions of doom from the start of the season are as extreme as predictions of a triple. I stand by the one I DID make, though, which was ‘I think we’re going to see some tasty football from this team’ and I’m happy to see that coming true.

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