So, yeah, Atlético Madrid lost to Barcelona. Once again.
I will say, however, this loss was a bit different. Yes, the crushing inevitability of it all - that Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez will wreck your team - was the same, but Atlético showed signs that they could do it, that as a united front they have the ability to defeat Barcelona over 90 minutes, something they haven't done at all in nearly two years. Atleti played 65 good minutes at Camp Nou on Saturday, far more than what most anyone else can play. However, the 25 bad minutes were all Barca needed to create space atop La Liga and all but end the title race before February.
It started exceptionally well for the new-look Atlético, playing in a 4-1-4-1 for the first time this season. From the opening kickoff, Diego Simeone ordered his troops to attack and press relentlessly, a change from other recent meetings with Barcelona. Camp Nou was stunned into silence as Saúl Ñíguez opened up the defense with a cross to an unmarked Koke, who slotted a volley past Claudio Bravo. Atleti opened the scoring for the second time in two meetings with Barca - this time inside 10 minutes.
With 20 minutes gone, things looked good. Barcelona were shocked at the energy and pace but were probably even more surprised when Atlético decided to sit back and recharge the batteries. Fatal mistake, that. Parking the bus and launching long balls is a strategy Atleti failed to properly execute in each 2015 meeting, and Barca duly punished this strategic error. Messi scored to round off a ridiculously patient and probing build up with Neymar and Jordi Alba. Eight minutes later, a Dani Alves long ball caught José Giménez napping, and Pichichi leader Suárez beat both his countryman and Jan Oblak to the ball.
Just before halftime, Atlético's aggression and frustration boiled over, as Filipe Luís went in high on Messi and caught the Argentine's knee. It was a straight red for Filipe, and it was the right decision too; Messi could have been seriously injured and Filipe was nowhere close to the ball when he made the challenge. When the halftime whistle sounded, one could not be faulted for assuming the situation would only get worse in the second half.
Amazingly, it didn't. Carrasco and Griezmann gave Barcelona fits after the intermission and the latter nearly notched what would have been a miraculous equalizer early on. Even after Diego Godín's second yellow card for a
heavily exaggerated foul on Suárez, even after Augusto Fernández was stretchered off with a knee injury, Atlético defended with vigor and pushed forward when able. On 89 minutes, Oblak joined the attack for a free kick, and substitute Stefan Savic almost got his head on the ball before Bravo snagged it.
You don't get points for bravery in football, and ultimately the result hurts Atleti's title chances and stretches the winless run to four. That said, the circumstances Atleti faced/brought on themselves were pretty dire, and a certain amount of pride will be elicited from this result. Simeone said as much in his remarks after the game.
Next week, Atlético return to the Calderón to face Eibar and (it should be noted) will be doing so with an all-new back line. Filipe and Godín will be suspended after they were sent off Saturday, and Juanfran's 42nd-minute yellow card means he will be watching from home as well.