Angry Face Emojis: Atleti Comes to Town

The season is only a few matches old, yet there’s the unmistakable air of May about it already. It’s not that Real Madrid are 3 points up in the standings because Barça dropped all 3 points in a clanger against Alaves, though they did indeed do just that, but rather that despite Barça wracking up 5 goals in 3 of their 5 matches in all competitions, the team doesn’t look settled. Alaves and Leganes offered up 2 different tests and while Barça ended up passing the latter with flying colors, it wasn’t quite so obvious an outcome for the first few minutes while Leganes huffed and puffed and nearly pulled off an early goal. Alaves, of course, took the lead on 2 separate occasions and always looked good for at least a point in what turned out to be a rather shrug-producing performance by the blaugrana.

It is easy enough to decry the team’s form or to make excuses for it, but it is startlingly clear that the team has yet to find a real rhythm. That is partially because it is early in the season and a with such a large number of new faces, integration was always going to be a bit of a challenge, but it is also because Lucho hasn’t had a sustained run of matches with a fully fit squad to work with. It is also easy to say that Lucho is simply still finding out how to utilize some of his players. What of Aleix Vidal? What of Lucas Digne? Samuel Umtiti is integrating rapidly enough for some fans to call for his coronation as the next great thing, but what of Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer, and Arda Turan? Are we to be so reliant on the trio of MSN for goals that any time they’re missing we’ll be bereft of options? Umtiti can’t very well go up front and knock in goals while also protecting the back line. Wait, can he?

The additions ticked all the right boxes this summer and looked absolutely stunning on paper, but transferring that to the field is not as easy as it is in FIFA—or I’m guessing PES, but really, does anyone actually play PES or do they just tell you they play PES for some weird Internet hipster credit? If it were, everyone would have shelled out insane money for Freddy Adu 15 years ago or whenever it was that your cousin Frank first mentioned him in a late night email chain about some upcoming match on Setanta. “He’s going to be amazing, you guys and don’t worry about adapting to new leagues, this one is Solid Gold Rated(C) according to the Cousin Frank O Meter of Goodness.” Lucho has a middling track record of introducing talent and getting it to mesh with his system: Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Sergi Roberto have all floundered in the deep waters of La Liga under his tutelage, after all.

And now the team faces a stern test: the rageface of Diego Simeone. He does undeniably horrible things to people who do not follow his strict instructions. Just ask his children: don’t click this if you value your eyes. So imagine what he’ll do to opponents. Arda Turan, a level-headed specimen that radiates calmness and an utter disdain for the grittier parts of the game and who has never once been involved in an on-the-the-field incident, was once seen trying to behead an official with footwear. Simeone makes you do crazy stuff. I’m guessing the Ministry of Magic has sent a howler his way a couple of times, but the Howler was shouted down. His teams play with a ferocity that borders on lunacy at times, but like the Mourinho teams of old that were more bite than bark—looking at you Chelsea and Manchester United—their intensity is also their saving grace in the way that the Seattle Seahawks were accused of flooding the market on cheap fouls.

So far, Atleti drew their first two matches, against Alaves and goalless away to Leganes. They then turned around and smashing 4 past Celta Vigo in Galicia and then 5 beyond Sporting Gijon in Madrid while also taking a somewhat fortuitous 0-1 win off of PSV in the Champions League. Griezmann has 4, the same as Suarez and Messi, while new boy Kevin Gameiro has 2. Fernando Torres, who somehow still has legs and is even more shockingly still called El Niño despite being something like 46 years old (note: he’s younger than I am and now I’m crying), also has 2. They’re certainly a dangerous team coming into dangerous form. They have the tools to challenge for the title, but they’ll need to win at the Camp Nou (and later the Bernabeu) to cement that challenge, so they’ll be going out guns blazing. Or shoes blazing, maybe, if that’s still their preferred artillery ammunition.

I highly suspect that it’ll be an exciting game, though it may not be as high scoring as the goal tallies from each team over the last few matches might suggest. Atleti will likely attempt to disrupt the game flow rather than come out to titillate the crowd with extravagant passing, but it should still give us something to enjoy. Since Simeone took over at Atleti, these are the scores in all the matches between Barça and Atleti (@ is at the Calderon, home team listed first):

15/16: @1-2, 2-1 (& 2 red cards for Atleti)
14/15: 3-1 (9 total yellows), @0-1 (8 total yellows)
13/14: 0-0, 1-1 (9 total yellows)
12/13: 4-1, @1-2
11/12: 5-0, @1-2 (11 total yellows)

Note that since Simeone took over, Atleti has never beaten Barça in the league. Yes, in the one match where Barça needed to win—the 2013/14 final match that ended 1-1 and handed Atleti the title—they couldn’t, but they’ve also never lost. And even if you include the Copa del Rey and the Champions league, Atleti has only beaten Barça once in 5 years (it just happened to be in the Champions League semifinal second leg). That’s impressive. At home in the league, Barça has scored 14 in 5 matches and allowed just 3. Again: impressive.

[Edit: jerk eagle-eyed Josep pointed out that I missed last year’s loss to Atleti in the Champions League, like a total spazzoid, so Barça has lost twice in 5 years to a team that has featured in 2 Champions League finals and won one league. Okay.]

And that is why Simeone brings the fire. If you can’t beat ‘em, fight ‘em harder. And that is why once again, tomorrow, we shall dance the dance of pain and hate, but whatever happens, it should be a good match. With both teams starting to fire on all cylinders, it may very well come down to which team has the brighter start. So let’s keep the viejo Niño out of the net for at least 60 seconds this time, whaddya say?

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

10 Comments

  1. PPos
    September 20, 2016

    Torres will forever be class. He might not have the legs anymore but he still has that killer instinct, innate to world class strikers that only need one touch to end you like he did to Neuer in the 2008 Euro Final. It’s a shame Umtiti is injured, I hope his injury doesnt cost us the match, because Mathieu and Masch are in poor form atm

  2. georgjorge
    September 21, 2016

    I actually thought Mathieu has been doing well when he played, and like Jim hope (but don’t believe) he will play tonight.

    Can’t wait for the match. This will be the first big test for the team this season, let’s see where we stand right now. I want to see Iniesta gliding away from the ruthless tackles flying at him and Neymar riling up defenders.

    • Jim
      September 21, 2016

      It will be a big test. I’d forgotten AM had bought Gameiro. That means they have a couple of pretty speedy forwards, one of whom tied Masche in knots last time they met. Forwards remember that. So for me, Mathieu would play, otherwise we have two slow CBs but even if he does this is potentially the best attack they have fielded against us. Also, Mathieu hasn’t had much game time so it’s a big ask. Torres shouldn’t have provided a problem last year but did so we need to be right on top of our defending. If we lose the first goal, it’s a long night.

      Will also be really interesting to see how they’ll handle TS. Will they follow in and press him or leave him but close down everyone else ? Can we pass out of the back? I’m happier with Ini in there as he’ll show for the ball and be able to hold onto it and carry it past players. Need Rakitic to up that part of his game. No point in him playing the simple backward pass just to get himself out of trouble.

      Mind you, I can only imagine how keen Messi is to settle the score for our CL dismissal last year so I wouldn’t be feeling too comfortable if I were them.

      Can’t wait !!!

  3. raj
    September 21, 2016

    The match will be at 1.30 AM, Indian time. Yet, I am looking forward to this. Got to be one hell of a match.

    Should be an open match too – AM will be looking for a win since one point wouldn’t help them to the top of the table anytime soon.

  4. Jim
    September 21, 2016

    Well, so far so good but what are AM up to ? I’m expecting the ” Are you Hee-Haw in disguise ? ” chant at any moment. Where’s the blood and thunder and pressure on the ball ? I also thought we were a bit laid back for the first thirty but when we choose to pick it up we’re around their box. They have fifty yards to go, against a defence which is so far staying at home.

    This won’t last, surely ? Simeone must be purple in the face by now in the dressing room . . . and there shall be blood.

  5. TITO
    September 21, 2016

    First Busi and then Messi, i hope we somehow get a win. I havent seen AM so defensive in a long time.

  6. Davour
    September 21, 2016

    A shame, but not catastrophe. We owned the game, the shit happened and not enough momentum to recover. First half was absolutely brilliant, though. Just hope Messi will rest enough this time. I think the team will do fine without him (though Arda must re-step-up), but it is tough to lose him mid-game; didn’t have a spectacular game, but AM spend so much time marking him, they must be thrilled. Griezmann no long must play DM, man marking the man who he supposedly is close to in quality. I don’t think so. The difference becomes so clear when they are in the same match. Antoine -though very good – is nowhere near Leo, nor Ney or Iniesta.

    Ney started well but perhaps should have done better on a few occasions; Suarez dropping to many balls, but with glimpses of magic. Iniesta with a lot of industry, but it just wasn’t happening. SR good again, as was Ter Stegen – nothing to do about the goal. Seemed like a weird situation, as if our players were not aware the free kick had benne taken.

    All in all, we should remember the first half; that’s what this team can do. Full control, slowly breaking down their opponents, forcing a world class team to drop deep into their own box. To me, AM cannot call themselves equals until they step up a little more, stop time wasting, etc.

  7. georgjorge
    September 21, 2016

    Yes, the first half was glorious. Atleti doesn’t need many chances but they hardly got anywhere near goal the first half, and was being put under relentless pressure. And that Iniesta tackle on the edge of the box – priceless.

    Masche…what can you say, slipping like that can happen to anyone (and the whole defense was caught unaware in that sequence). Just very unlucky for such a slip to come close after that equally embarassing kick into empty air against Alaves.

    I’m not devastated to draw 1-1 against a team like Atleti even at home. All the matches against them the last seasons were very close, and one slip-up can cost you the win, as they don’t give you many chances either.

  8. raj
    September 22, 2016

    ‘And that Iniesta tackle on the edge of the box – priceless.’ – Iniesta did it because he lost the ball in the first place. But even then, he was the best on the pitch yesterday (I can’t remember a big match in recent years, in which he wasn’t one of the best performers in the least)

    Masche – unfortunate indeed, nothing much he could have done. It was Pique who let the ball through his legs, which again, I am hesitant to point fingers at (especially since I realize how much role chance plays)! Apart from that, I think it was as flawless a defense could be against the likes of Greizman.

    Overall, looking at the evolution this season so far, we are already at the level needed to lead the league and go deep into the CL. We need to step it up from March onward for the final push. But for next 6 month, as long as we don’t become too lazy, this level is all we need.

    The bigger issue is the injuries to Bus and Messi

  9. ooga aga
    September 22, 2016

    Busi not injured. He had a fever and couldn’t complete the match.

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