It had to be (expletive) Atleti

There is a rapper whose name is Mister Muthafuckin’ Exquire.

Aside from ensuring that his performing name will never, ever be used in full by a major media outlet, the rapper’s name made me think of other people and things whose name should include that barnyard epithet.

Muthafuckin’ Atleti. Not again. Oh Lord, not again.

The Champions League draw happened and everybody had their favorites. Most polls favored either Wolfsburg or RM, the two easiest teams in the draw for Barça. The devotees of history figured it would be PSG, because that Ibrahimovic thing is still strong. But some of us knew better, people easy to identify by finding the person cowering with trepidation. Yes, over there. That coal-black corner from which all you can detect are sobs.

Barça is perfect against Atleti under the reign of Luis Enrique, a gaudy 6-0 record against a team that the year before, ruined culer parties like some dude running around, pissing in punch bowls. “Party over here? Not any more!” Champions League, Liga … no sprite parties, just rueful memories of what might have been.

Luis Enrique took over, brought in some key signings and changed everything. Barça is perfect against Atleti. So why worry?

Because Atleti is, for you boxing history devotees, Jake LaMotta to Sugar Ray Robinson. It’s nasty. It’s personal. It’s contrasting styles, the dancer against the fighter that never relents. Robinson could usually count on a sliver of space, something to take advantage of. LaMotta just hunkered down and kept coming, this unrelenting force interested in nothing except doling out punishment. Taking punishment? Sure. That’s part of the deal. It was a tunnel of agony and at the exit was something approximating light, a respite of sorts until the next descent into darkness.

Barça dances and capers, each and every opponent requiring different levels of effort even as they all have one thing in common: a lapse. In only takes one. And the rapier is buried. Not to the hilt, because the wounded prey is fun to play with. It chases harder through cut after cut. Not Atleti. They don’t tire, they don’t stop pressing, they don’t stop kicking, and grabbing, and tactical fouling, and making runs and prodding for a weakness that comes not in anything other than just being absolutely sick and tired of them and what they do. “Leave me alone, man! Come on!”

It’s at that moment that Atleti have you, a team that people are fond of saying, “They squeaked that one out.” But they didn’t. They build a room with no doors, and opponents have to find a way out. One goal is plenty.

It had to be Atleti. The best need to beat the best. Barça’s last Champions League path was strewn with vanqushed  champions. This year, it is the best. If you want to be the best, beat the best. Again and again. And here’s another one. It’s called Champions League for a reason.

If Barça reaches the semi-finals, it will win the Champions League. Atleti is the best team left in the tournament, as well as the team most capable of beating Barça because it’s the only group that never relents. Barça hates that. What does Atleti hate? That even in a doorless, windowless room erected with glue for mortar and steel backing brick, Barça’s technicians can find a way out.

Will the best team win? It usually does over two matches, barring injuries or stupid ref mistakes. But often, the “best” team is the one that most consistently, most effectively plays its game. Barça strengths are Atleti weaknesses, and vice versa. Ultimately, the winner will be football.

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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.

14 Comments

  1. March 19, 2016

    I was very sure that we were going to get the toughest opponent. There are only two teams whom Atleti would not have liked to face, us and Bayern. Lets beat the best to be the best.
    However, I just want us to come out these two legs without injuries. And Messi or Neymar, please show some ‘respectful’ something to that Filipe favouritism Luise. I like him as a player, but his comments, after getting a reduced suspension, was terrible.
    I just hope, we get a 2 goal margin in the first leg itself.

  2. georgjorge
    March 19, 2016

    Some great metaphors in there! I don’t see Atleti as the best team left because I rate Bayern pretty high this year, but they ARE one of very few teams against which Barca can’t relax even slightly, even if they go down to nine men. Last year, against PSG or ManCity, Barca could afford to play in second gear for some stretches and still win comfortably, but not against Atlético. Add the lurking possibility of injury against them and I’m not happy with the draw, which is not to say I think the team will lose.

    Oh, and I don’t know how, but they managed to lose against Sporting Gijon today. Atlético got exactly one shot at goal (which they scored from) while Gijon got three (scoring twice). Must have been a strange game, and so the league title is even more secure now. The team could lose at Villareal (not unheard of) and still not feel any more pressure.

  3. raj
    March 20, 2016

    Seems like the referee fucked up what could have been a awesome contest.

  4. TITO
    March 20, 2016

    What was the point of making those defensive changes at that time? I cant remember another time when LE did that.
    Anyway, it cost us 2 goals.

    • raj
      March 20, 2016

      Pique was having a nightmare, he should have been sent off

    • G6O
      March 20, 2016

      Well, it got worse. Alves lost the ball, which led to the first goal.

      Mathieu lost it in an even more dangerous position, which fortunately did not lead to a goal, but was out of position for the first one and then scored an own goal…

      Anyway, we can afford this draw so it’s OK. The streak continues 🙂

    • georgjorge
      March 20, 2016

      Yes, the defense just seemed to be absent for those fifteen minutes in the second half. Busquets also very casually put the ball out of play for a corner with plenty of other options though I can’t recall if it was the corner that led to their second goal.

  5. georgjorge
    March 20, 2016

    That was a gripping game – seemed like Raj still got his “awesome contest” ; ) And it must be the first time in a long period that Barca got awarded an UNJUST penalty (remember when we couldn’t even get the just ones awarded?).

    Villareal at home is no doubt a very formidable opponent, so I’m not even too unhappy about conceding two goals in fifteen minutes that way. But beyond individual defensive errors, I’m slightly annoyed with the tendency to still play it out the back with short passes – and handing chances to them – when they are pressing the defense with six men. Neymar and Messi also were unable to finish their incredible chances to score that came from them pressing so high in the second half. And Suarez never fell in sync with the rest of the offense at all. Still, a very good chance at victory against an opponent giving everything, playing very well and never giving up.

    Positive: Denis Suarez really showed Enrique what he can do over and over again. I wouldn’t be against bringing him back for next season at all.

  6. Tata2
    March 20, 2016

    We are a point better in our liga race, and our unbeaten run is still intact what’s there not to like? Granted these guys are human and it’s just one of those days, though IMHO with Iniesta and Alves not even making the trip, I feel LE underrated them. My only fear is that this is becoming a template to beat barca and not like on a good day we wouldn’t have won but Atleti are going to be an upgrade on Villa real in the UCL. We need to be sterner in defence and ruthless in attack. Then again we are beginning to see a pattern here, when Ini doesn’t play we are starved of creativity in the middle field prompting Messi to always drop there

    • Davour
      March 20, 2016

      Atleti is an upgrade, but the team will be more focused in the CL, no doubt. Even first half they felt distracted, and I guess today the couldn’t step it up to grab the win. Which is fine away against Villareal – this was on paper the toughest game during the rest of the Liga, unless RM find their game in the clasico.. Another point further from Atleti, and even if RM still wins, they are 10 behind; even they would surprise us and win the clasico, still 7 points behind and our remaining schedule is very manageable, opponent-wise.

  7. Dar_vincy
    March 20, 2016

    Hard to fault LE’s subtitution of Pique. A yellow card means he misses clasico.

    Probably, this setback will spur them not to be complacent against Madrid (as they would almost certainly cut the gap by beating Sevilla).

  8. Davour
    March 20, 2016

    Another top team, Sevilla, offering a stinker when facing RM (from what I saw). Emery, what happened?

  9. Jim
    March 20, 2016

    This is killing me ! Another game missed and a yellow card for me for trying to watch it in the middle of the night. Apparently I haven’t come to Hawaii to wake her up in the middle of the night to follow Barcelona !

    So, I’ve seen the brief highlights but what happened ? Pique taken off to prevent a red or Clasico insurance ? Did we go to pieces after that or before ? Was the defence bad or unlucky ? Didn’t look like a pen for us but there were others ? Did we miss Ini or were they just good ?

    Result is still good,considering but it’s the bigger picture that interests me. Btw, what a pass from Messi’s for the pen. Gave the defender the eyes and slipped it the other way. With precisely the right pace ! He is genuinely otherworldly.

  10. Dar_vincy
    March 24, 2016

    R.I.P, Johan Cruyff.

    A sad day.

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