Atleti v Barça, aka “The big one”

Cards on the table: If Barça advances against Atleti in the Champions League quarterfinal tie, barring a serious injury to a key player, they will win the tournament.

Some would even suggest that this slugfest is of a quality that will be superior to the actual CL final. The first match had everything, from an away goal to the scorer having what can best be described as a moment, to magic as a team managed to waste almost 32 minutes of a 90-minute football match, via high-level arsery. Barça’s strengths are Atleti’s weaknesses and vice versa. Some even suggest that this matchup is the new Classic, as the rivalry against Real Madrid has been diminished by dimwitted purchasing decisions and a coaching merry go round.

Denizens of this space recall that in the first leg preview, the prediction was 2-1, 1-1, and another Barça semi-final berth against someone or other. Nothing has happened to alter that prediction, even as things have happened to advance it. Let’s look at those.

— Torres is suspended. The principal Barça tormentor for Atleti will be watching from the stands, and this culer couldn’t be happier about that. Torres, even in his diminished state, always seems to have something for Barça. He scored the goal, and set up Griezmann for what, with a lesser keeper, would have been a second away goal for Atleti. His presence creates chaos in a way that no other attacker for Atleti can offer, so his stupidity is Barça’s gain. Without Torres to provide the foil and aggressor role, Griezmann can be managed as he becomes almost rootless, this thing that flits from branch to branch, looking for something good.

— Messi was the stank against La Real. It has been four matches since he has had a goal or an assist. It won’t be five. There has been lots of talk about Messi being in a slump. Hogwash. Messi is in a lot of things, including a fitness trough. He’s tired. But his standard is high. So exceptionally high that if a normal player had the match that he had against La Real, we would still be buzzing about it, even without the chances having gone into the back of the net. Messi has a higher standard, but he also has a higher personal standard. He wants to help his team, needs to help his team. He will be on today, and will make a difference in the match.

Atleti don’t score a lot of goals. The odds that trend will change today verge on the infinitesimal, even as they will be able to play a tight match thanks to the away goal that means they can advance with a 1-0 win. That isn’t likely. La Real kept Barça from scoring, lord knows how, as chance after chance was left wanting. Many believe that if Suarez had been playing, Barça would have won. His presence is a key aspect to the attack, a random chaos generator that never stops moving. It’s as impressive as it is constantly dangerous. And it doesn’t even matter if Suarez has been crap for the whole match. If Atleti manage to keep Barça from scoring, it will take a collective effort that will make it unlikely that they will score, either. 0-0 works for Barça.

Now, about that Champions League prediction …

If Barça advance, without knowing the outcome of the other match today, with Benfica at home against Bayern, neither RM nor City should worry a culer. Only people who don’t understand what is going on would say that RM’s form is good. They mounted a comeback against a Wolfburg team that really had no business in the CL quarterfinals, and played like it. More telling is the ghost-walking match control that Barça showed off against RM in the home Classic, control that would have been good enough for a 1-0 win except for a couple of Alba moments. Full-speed Barça is better represented by the 4-goal Bernabeu win. City is a mess.

Should Bayern advance (and should) it is an impressive side. But they are going to play football against Barça, and nobody is going to win playing football against Barça. It’s why Atleti is so formidable an opponent. That team and its coach understand that unless you play a perfect match and catch Barça on a crap day, you aren’t going to beat them straight up. So you kick, grab, foul and waste time, reducing the match to flow-free chunklets. Then you have a chance. Bayern is the second-best football team in the world right now, behind Barça. It would make for a brilliant final, even as they would have a better chance over two legs than one.

This makes today, in effect, a match that is for all the marbles. Should you be worried about it? No, for the reasons made clear above. If you want to worry, fret about whether Jordi Alba will melt down, or what kind of hair Alves or Neymar will sport for the match. Is the outcome in the bag? No, but football is usually easy to predict, particularly with high-stakes matches. There would be more concern with Torres in the lineup, or if the tie was 1-1 on aggregate. But at some point, Atleti will have to chase a goal, particularly as they don’t attack enough to force a high number of set pieces from Barça, a team that has also repaired its vulnerability against set pieces.

Now let’s do this.

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Written by:

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.

34 Comments

  1. mr.undercover
    April 13, 2016

    A motivational piece really!

    I hope the team delivers especially messi, (fingers croseed)

  2. Dar_vincy
    April 13, 2016

    Yeah, bring ’em on.
    Great preview.

  3. georgjorge
    April 13, 2016

    Gala XI again? I like it. No mind games with Lucho here: “you know who we play and how we play, now try to beat us if you can”.

  4. ciaran
    April 13, 2016

    It’s really a battle of the first XI’s as neither team have much of a bench in terms of changing the game. It’s something that will really have to be worked on in the off season

  5. TITO
    April 13, 2016

    Such a childish mistake. You dont kick th

  6. TITO
    April 13, 2016

    The ball back to 20 meters from your goal when there is a high probability that it will go on their feet.

  7. Messiah10
    April 13, 2016

    Had to come on here & vent. Haven’t posted in a long long time. However, I cannot withhold my frustration with Jordi Alba. He is the biggest defensive liability in our back four. Very poor decision making. Cannot head a ball to save his life. Simply is not worth what he brings offensively. He’s solely responsible for Atleti’s goal. Why in the world did he kick iget right into the middle of the pitch just outside of our own area? You have to understand where your defensive partners are and clear it down field. No excuses.

  8. Rami
    April 13, 2016

    shame about the goal, I thought we were playing it right, Hold the home win advantage, Absorb atleti’s intense pressure, No forced play and avoid giving up the ball, And wait until they slowly burn themselves out and spaces will start to open for us for the killing blow, pffffff.
    Now our players will be in intense pressure in the 2nd half, Cross fingers and hope for the best.

  9. TITO
    April 13, 2016

    I dont get it really. It has v

  10. TITO
    April 13, 2016

    Become such an easy task to score against us. Compared to last season a real downfall.
    Anyway, lets hope our players dont think that the tie is already over.

    Fucking fingers….

  11. Davour
    April 13, 2016

    Well, sorry to see another Alba mistake go punished. But this is such an unbelievably tight game. Perhaps we were a bit too careful; overconfidence in possession has been evident in some games (read: clasico) and rarely worked as of late.

    Hoping for a blazing 2nd!

  12. Tata2
    April 13, 2016

    We might as well be out. Let’s now focus on the league

    • Davour
      April 13, 2016

      That’s the spirit…

  13. georgjorge
    April 13, 2016

    I don’t want to put any blame on the team for today’s loss. Almost all of them brought their A game, it’s just that Atleti brought their A+ game today.

    Sad but at least hoping to celebrate a league title now.

  14. Davour
    April 13, 2016

    Turns out team’s still pretty dependent on Messi. Sad to see him so tame, standing around without much initiative like he doesn’t care. Though he hated to lose. But the team didn’t have it in them; AM wanted this more and we never managed to really push for it.

    Clasico was a perhaps not what broke us, but it was the symptom of decline. Had the feeling for a long time that the team was avoiding losses rather than really winning. Now AM displayed the energy we had last year. I hope they draw RM and kick the living shit out of them, too.

    And I guess CR is the best player now, then.

    Let’s go for the Liga and Copa – not too shitty!

  15. ciaran
    April 13, 2016

    Most disappointing stat is that as a team Atletico covered over 10km more than us, they wanted it more.
    That penalty decision would have been unfair on Atletico but was the correct call. Suarez was unlucky not to score but was quiet except for nearly blinding Godin.
    Neymar was poor enough. Iniesta had a load of the ball around 30 yards out but couldn’t make anything substantial out of it. Rakitic was extremely poor.
    Very disappointed with the effort put in to be honest. Can’t argue that Atletico didn’t deserve it but the only silver lining is that the team will have more rest and should now win the double.
    Best of luck to Bayern, Man City and Atletico

    • Rami
      April 13, 2016

      I wouldn’t read much into it, It occurred because we forced them to chase the ball most of the match, As we should have, To drain them, The actual disappointing thing is how we failed to take advantage of their extra fatigue.

  16. PPos
    April 13, 2016

    The Clasico loss broke this team. Messi had no answer for Cristiano Ronaldo. We are in free fall. We’ll see how these players show up for the league this weekend. Who knows?

  17. lala10
    April 13, 2016

    Enter Your Comment… its been coming. Cant say we were not warned. Too easy first half goal complicated things.

    The team competed but not well enough. You felt as if the goal was coming then Godin went down under Suare’s challenge and momentum was lost.

    Could be winner’s case that afflicted us. One feeling only properly sums this up:HOLLOW

  18. TITO
    April 13, 2016

    Well, Freddy got fingered.
    We are still for the double and in normal books that is an extraordinary achievement.
    The other side might end up short of trophies this season.
    What was strange for me the last couple of weeks is that we lost completely our way of playing from last season, dont know why. We were back to Tata Martinos game.

  19. Huckleberry
    April 13, 2016

    a realy spectacular breakdown if the best team and the best player out of top ten.

  20. Tata2
    April 13, 2016

    I always refrain from arguing football but today I had to take one for this team. An EE fan was of the view that if was the classico loss that has demoralized us but I refused to accept that. Yes we were winning matches before the classic but not convincingly and always relied on opponents to scoff their chances after having nicked a goal of two. The only thing we recall about Messi and Suarez from the arsenal 2nd leg match was only their goals. And is it a coincidence that once this team (irrespective of the coach) goes into the Barca ’12 mode (what some people rather tag the Tata Marino mode) we always end up been knocked out. I am only praying so hard that April won’t be the month were we throw everything away. Then again its so sad we don’t even have good substitutes for the MSN and as long as we can’t score we ain’t winning matches and we ain’t winning trophies. So many questions, so many questions… could it also be that L.E has ran out of ideas? I don’t know, oh Lord! I need to go to bed.
    Lord don’t let us lose the league, I don’t know if my poor heart would take it

  21. ciaran
    April 13, 2016

    I honestly can’t see us losing the league. God help Valencia at the weekend. The boys have loads to prove and a scoreline similar to the first Copa match wouldn’t altogether surprise me.
    The entire frontline needs to click for the last stretch of the season and the defense needs to switch on

  22. G6O
    April 13, 2016

    Now we see why Luis Enrique wanted Nolito so much.

    We pay the $$ for him in the winter, we rotate MSN half of the games, it may have been a different story.

    Today actually wasn’t that different of a game from the ones we won convincingly against Atletico last year.

    Last year they pressed high too, but we played the ball quickly through the press, and then Messi, Neymar and Suarez were quick and lethal.

    Today, the quick play out of the back through the press was rarely seen, and when the ball got through we were sluggish and couldn’t do much with it.

    Anyway, I’ll be more than happy with the double, I am just hoping a certain team in white does not win the CL.

  23. SoccerMom
    April 13, 2016

    Hi everybody! I haven’t had a chance to write in a while, but I do come and visit and read as often as I can. And after today’s match, I just had to come and post because I felt so … well, nostalgic, I guess. I felt nostalgic for seasons past, when I had 3 less kids and 10 less poundage and 8 hours more z’s night and lots more time to waste thinking up silly stuff on all things kool-ay for Barcelona Football Blog (oh yeah, I used to smoke too, Not Kools. But I’m nostalgic for that too. Nicotine patch my *&*^@#.)

    Anyway, this match reminded me of an entirely different Barca. One that was heavily Messi-dependent yet also the all-around-best-team-ever with a manager who clearly knew the game and his team even though fans didn’t know quite a whole lot about him. A squad of grace and harmony that faced a schoolyard full of bullies, whose philosophy of Total Football was answered with one or two one-liners: “Kick them.” “Park bus.” “Fall down.” And played on a pitch apparently groomed by Carl Spackler. Games like, oh, I don’t know, against Atleti. Or Madrid. Or Bayern. Or Juve. Or Chelsea.

    It’s hard to remember sometimes that Barcelona sometimes doesn’t win the Champions League. It’s hard to remember that the 2009 “Iniestazo” was so glorious precisely because Barcelona was about 90 seconds away from being kicked out of European competition (remember Silvinho reminding a stunned Pep to sub him in to wind down the last precious seconds on the clock?) Or the following year, again in injury time, when you may have leapt from your sofa like me, screaming, “THEY DID IT!” just as the referee disallowed Yaya’s handball pass to Krkic?

    It’s never easy. And it’s never a given. But neither is it the End of the World. We had a good Hlebruary … so we put on our rose-colored glasses and toasted trophies we hadn’t won yet. As far as Champions go, Barcelona has become the Team to Beat, year in and out, and this year alone came quite close to doing something no team, not ever, had done before … while competing in leagues that many professional, national-quality players can only watch on tv.

    And it is still Springtime in Catalunya. I don’t hear me singing yet. We’re still on top of two Champions teams in two other top-flight competitions.

    Besides, now we get to savor the schaudenfraude of watching two squads who play exactly the same way yet who deeply and truly can’t stand each other. Maybe they’ll each stay in their own half and just punt it to the other side once in a while. Ping. Ping. Ping.

    Go ManCity!

    And, as always, forza Barca.

  24. luisthebeast
    April 13, 2016

    I wonder why we did fought so hard to reach CDR final.55 games and still April 13th.And with so many latin americans in squad International break killed us.I loved the team in second half.Atletiko parked the bus and defended with everything they had(That fucking Gabi tackle before Pique score)!Well the true Big teams fail sometimes and never complain about refs.The crying is for Simeone and his small team.And general for small teams.Just imagine if the game was Barca-Atletiko and this PK dont called.Uefalona.You need luck some times to draw average German teams or Benfica(Btw nobody talk about the help from refs in both games for Bayern).But Barca dont need luck.Now lets win the double and in the end we will see what changes must do.And please Mark if u want to be number 1 u have to do a lot of work.Stop crying and work.

  25. Rami
    April 13, 2016

    Utterly disappointed with the team, And no one should feel guilty for feeling the same,
    We’ weren’t the under dogs in this competition, We were the team to beat, We have the best squad, And even have the best manager in my opinion, We had all the tools to win, That’s why i find it hard to just scoff it off and say ” Well at least we tried”, We’re not wolfsburg, PSG or arsenal.

    Trying to justify what happened today to atleti’s brilliant performance and them bringing their (A) game doesn’t sit very well, Atlelti were always a fierce, tough and consistent opponent, Today was no different, And i failed to see any major changes they brought to their game that was different from the last 7 times we faced them, Yet we still manged to overcome them every single time, One of the reasons why today’s loss deeply hurts, And comes as a shock.

    Those 7 consecutive wins, the 39 unbeaten streak, The treble of last season, All were possible because we had the edge over all opponents, Over and over again, The team looked like a single organism, The players felt like they had telepathic powers, Had Sharpness in both decisions and executions, They were ruthless, and confident,.
    But This flame started to fade since about a month ago, At the worst possible time, We thought the loss of the clasico and RS would alert them, And slap them back to their senses, But was of no use.

    Now i’d like to give a strong shout out to luis enrique for taking the full blame, Although in my opinion, He had absolutely nothing to do with what happened, Nor there was any thing he could’ve done, Simply put, Our players failed to deliver on the pitch, And i’m sure they know this very well

  26. Messiah10
    April 13, 2016

    Lack of rotation has been an issue, but then again we had 4 players out today that LE couldn’t even choose from. 1st have we controlled the ball but didn’t do anything with it. 1 error and goal. 2nd half we zipped it around and really had momentum. 1 errant elbow and that momentum died. Then we turn it over when there was no reason to. Honestly, he could’ve passed instead of trying to turn and we are attacking goal again. Instead he turns and gets beat to it and boom, counter with no one back. Handball, game over. Although all we had to do was score 1 to force extra time and we couldn’t do that. Atletico deserves to go through. Less mistakes and created more chances over both legs.

  27. Chiu
    April 13, 2016

    – Congratulations for Atletico Madrid

    – Dissapointed with the elimination after such a great run since the start of the season. But as always, CL always tight competition where any small error get punished badly. With a small improvement within the squad, we would have a good probability to win it again next season.

    – Now time to fully focus for domestic double, which is still a great achievement. I believe the team would recover from this loss, win the double and we could have a big party / parade at the end of season.

    – Just wondering whether with the upcoming EURO and Copa America distracting the focus of some players ? Messi seems disinterested in the game. Panama papers or avoiding injury for Argentina probably burden him mentally?? Just speculation.

    Visca Barca!

  28. mr.undercover
    April 14, 2016

    We were completely awful, and atletico showed their hunger and deserved it more. What baffles me is that after each lose the players would come out talking about learning from previous mistakes but they seems to fell over same hole. Just look at the first goal, its exactly the type of goal RS scored at the weekend. Apparently they never learn. Jordi Alba is becoming a defensive/offensive liability to our team, After his trade mark school-boyish defending by clearing to ball to the middle of the pitch which fell at the opponents feet, cannot head a goddamn ball, his crosses are extremely appalling. Now its left in the players hands to make this season successful by winning the double, but if valencia beat us at the camp nou on sunday then that would certainly be the nail on the coffin

    • Davour
      April 14, 2016

      Things is, that lesson might be learnt, but the players not in a mental state to execute these insights. Simple psychology gives that when tired (physically and/or mentally) we resort to old solutions, habits and repetition. To me, it seems the players did not have the capacity to do the unexpected. To break up AM’s strict structure, constant movement is necessary – and everyone must move all the time to create space. As it happened, this was not done. Risks were not taken because the players did not see the solutions as viable. The system was not working and against such opposition as AM, individual brilliance will rarely be enough. Suarez created a chance brilliantly by backing into the box, turning and shooting – but straight at the keeper. This is the same Suarez who volleyed a cross into the far corner, but also the same who missed a sitter agains RM.

      When you are tired or lack inspiration, you don’t make that run, but wait for someone else to do it. And when that someone else (Messi & Neymar) does not, well… But it’s the entire team; Piqué is out of form, the FB’s are not closing down their flanks (though Alba was not bad yesterday, despite his awful clearance), Busquets plays safe and looks slow, etc.

      I think LE needs to break down the untouchable status of the MSN and force some rotation – it is absurd not being able to sub one of them when we lead 4-0 and 30 mins to go. For me, not being able to rest Messi against Sociedad is a good example. He should’ve been nowhere near that game – but Suarez’ suspension + no reasonable sub made it impossible to even think it.

      But man, they were brilliant up until the int. break, and with intelligent play and maintenance the double is well within reach! Let us be understanding, not spoiled brats.

    • April 14, 2016

      Well said. These are human beings, not machines! Some fans really are spoiled brats, not aimed at anyone in particular, but some of the stuff I have been reading online you would think Barca just got relegated. We are still on for the double, which by ANY club’s standards would be a phenomenal season. Winning treble’s is not normal for a reason, it is insanely difficult to achieve, instead of complaining that we are not going to do it in back to back seasons (like WTF!?!? I feel foolish just typing that) maybe we should be a little grateful that we have witnessed two trebles in the space of less than 10 years.

    • Davour
      April 14, 2016

      Exactly; I did not mean to aim the “spoiled brat” at anyone in particular, either (I hope Mr Undercover did not misunderstand), but we as a fan group have, I think, become addicted to success, to winning. I voiced this before, but the analogy to drugs and the need to increase the dose to remain satisfied is, to me, helpful. I admit to struggling with unwarranted disappointment – beyond the normal reaction to a loss – feeling almost indifferent about the remaining season now that the hyped back-to-back treble did not happen. I even prepared myself for the loss during the final 20 minutes, since I had the sense we would not make it…

      The system seems set up to prevent a team from doing this – all the extra games and travels… And it seems Messi will not be “switched on” for two seasons without proper fuel. CR’s hattrick was not enough this time, so maybe he speaks the truth when he says he does not care too much about scoring and comparisons!

      Now, let’s support the team! If we only win the league, this will be a fine season, still.

  29. April 14, 2016

    It was disappointing, but frankly, I thought the better team, the more hungry team went through. I can accept we dont have a consecutive treble, as long EE dont win the CL. I really hope they dont get City in the semis. That would be a walk in the park for them.
    I just feel that, our strategy for the game could have been different. We didnt have an element of surprise for Atletico and just did what we did in the past, wait for them to tire and then do something. It would have been nice to execute the plan – attack is the best defence – and that would have surprised them too. In the second half, when we really started trying, it did look like there could be a goal any minute until that Godin show.
    Lets at least win the double now.

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