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Barça Defeat Sends Atleti Crashing Back to Earth

After a disappointing defeat to Barcelona on Sunday, Atlético Madrid’s briefly reignited hopes of La Liga success finally disappeared.

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - La Liga
Sergio Busquets “tackles” Saúl in his trademark fashion.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Despite a good first half performance and a seemingly invincible Diego Godín goal, Atlético Madrid fell to Barcelona 2-1 at the Vincente Calderon. Because of a loss by Real Madrid mid-week and a fantastic Champions League performance, Atlético Madrid had brief hopes of climbing further up the table than has been expected. Because of this, memories of May 2014 came rushing back, with the hope of a famous last win against Barcelona at the Vincente Calderon.

But it wasn’t to be, as Atlético Madrid fell to a Lionel Messi goal just four minutes from the end of the match. It was in truth, quite a good matchup, particularly in the first half, where Atleti created some good chances, as did their Catalan counterparts. As most teams will against Barcelona, Atleti had less of the ball, but forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into some good saves.

Though the match was competitive, the goals were all somewhat scrappy in nature, two rebound goals for Barcelona with some chaotic defending in Atleti’s box, and a Diego Godín header, though it was well assisted by Koke. In the first half, Barcelona set out with a three defenders, which their side was clearly not quite used to yet, and it showed in several sloppy moments in the first 45.

A positive was Jan Oblak’s return from a dislocated shoulder, and though Miguel Moya performed well in his absence, there is a very noticeable gap in quality watching Oblak, who made a few good saves throughout. Despite Oblak’s efforts, Barcelona did score twice against him, no thanks to some particularly poor defending on multiple occasions, not just the goals.

Again the problem of Stefan Savic re-emerges, as throughout this season he has added very little to the team in terms of veteran defensive stability.. Diego Godín is unquestionably a world-class defender, but there has yet to be a consistent partner for him at the center of defense this season. Jose Gimenez has shown flashes of brilliance, but equally has shown that he is error-prone, which is to be expected for a young defender, but definitely an area of his game that needs improving.

Despite a few errors in the match, Šime Vrsaljko was good again, with the notable exception of when he brilliantly won back possession, but made an ill–advised forward run, which allowed a counter attack for Barça.

It should also be said that it is an issue for Atleti that Diego Godín had the joint-highest amount of shots in the team, alongside Antoine Griezmann, and though there were numerous set-piece opportunities for Atleti, this is undoubtedly a concern. Again, Kevin Gameiro was frustrating, another trademark of this season.

And, as is to be expected, the results elsewhere hurt Atleti even more than this defeat, with Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Sevilla adding to their points total, making Atlético Madrid’s league position more precarious. It will be a fight for the Champions League qualification for Atleti in the final stretch of the season, but they should have enough quality to hold off Real Sociedad and the other top-four contenders.

Lionel Messi has routinely saved Barcelona this season, and this match was certainly no different. Having a player like Messi is quite literally priceless, but it is not unreasonable to hope for Atleti’s star players to step up in big games like this, which they did not. The Champions League remains the last trophy Atleti could realistically win this season, and it is common knowledge how difficult that will be, and there needs to be a strong response after the disappointment of this match against Barça.