First half goals from Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi guided Barcelona to a 2-1 victory over Atlético Madrid at Estadio Vicente Calderón on Wednesday night.
Suárez drove through the Atlético defense to get Barcelona on the board inside 10 minutes and Messi lashed home his side’s second after half an hour. Atleti recovered in the second half and pulled one back through an Antoine Griezmann header, but Diego Simeone’s side failed to find an equalizer. As such, Barça have a comfortable advantage ahead of the second leg at Camp Nou on Tuesday.
Simeone’s aim was to try to keep a clean sheet - which his Atlético side had done in each first leg of this competition entering Wednesday. Šime Vrsaljko and Juanfran teamed up on the right-hand side, while Gabi returned to the team after suspension kept him out against Alavés on Saturday. Yannick Carrasco displaced Kévin Gameiro and started next to Griezmann up top.
The plan for a defensive battle was blown to bits within seven minutes. A mazy Suárez run - which included Stefan Savić getting completely run in an attempt to stop him - ended with a deft finish into the bottom right corner and a crucial away goal for the two-time defending champions.
Barcelona resumed its feast on a vulnerable Atlético, which again lacked intensity and drive. Messi doubled Barcelona’s advantage in the 33rd minute with a rocket that buzzed past Miguel Ángel Moyá, and Luis Enrique’s side could have added more as Atleti limped into halftime down 2-0.
Fernando Torres entered for Vrsaljko at half time, and while El Niño did not score on the night, his entrance facilitated the best 45-minute Atlético display in quite some time. Atleti came out with more fire and had Barça on its heels from the restart. Gabi and Koke had chances early before Griezmann actually put one away. Diego Godín nodded on to Griezmann from a Gabi free kick and the Frenchman headed home with a little over half an hour remaining.
Griezmann had another chance moments later, but Jasper Cillessen made a reaction save from point-blank range. The chances kept coming for Atlético, and Simeone threw on Nico Gaitán (for Saúl Ñíguez) and Kévin Gameiro (for Carrasco) in an attempt to snag a second goal. Carrasco and Gameiro both missed overhead kicks, and Torres nearly scored a backheel from a Filipe cross before he fired wide of the goal from a Gabi pass. Griezmann tried again from distance as the seconds ticked away, but that too went for naught, and Barcelona just hung on for the win.
While the second half performance was encouraging and showed that Atleti can still bring it when required, that dismal first half will be enough to see Barça through to the Copa del Rey final for the fourth year in a row. Simeone and his team will still believe, though, and could tighten things up at Camp Nou next week. However, barring a truly spectacular remontada, Atleti will crash out of the Copa on Tuesday - meaning 2016-17 will become Champions League or bust for Simeone’s men.