Dec 16, 2012, 5:08 PM EDT
Three early chances asked you to believe this game could be different. An early header that found woodwork. A narrow miss wide after blowing past Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Then the goal, a turnover by Lionel Messi leading to Radamel Falcao’s opener. If the world’s best No. 9 was going to get chances every 10 minutes, Barcelona would surely fall at Camp Nou.
That didn’t happen. Finally putting his side ahead in the 31st minute, Falcao’s 17th goal of the season served as a wakeup call. Five minutes later, a golazo from Adriano pulled the league leaders even. Sergio Busquets gave them the lead before half, a position Barcelona never relinquished. The Catalans went on to a 4-1 victory, completing their best 16-game start to a Primera Division season (46 points).
In many ways, it was typical Barcelona. From the opening kickoff they dominated possession, with their high defensive line tempting (and eventually, conceding) a goal. For one of the few times this season, Tito Vilanova had a full complement of defenders at his disposal (Jordi Alba starting with Pique, Puyol, and Adriano). Going forward it took them time to break down a well-organized Atlético defense, though once they did, their dominance of possession helped see out the match.
The one thing that wasn’t typical was Messi. At least, for 45 minutes, the world’s best player wasn’t his normal sel. Stripped of the ball by Diego Costa just inside Atlético’s half ahead of the first goal, Messi was arguably a weakness over the first half. Without his mistake, Victor Valdes might have carried a clean sheet into intermission.
Messi got some redemption early in the second half. In the 57th minute, a ball played to him just outside the Atlético area allowed him to dribble onto his left and beat Thibault Courtois from 19 yards out. Falcao may have taken the first 45 minutes, but Messi wasn’t going to allow their duel to reach full time without being heard. In the 88th minute, when Messi stripped Diego Godin before chipping Courtois, the world’s best player had the final word.
But despite running his league goal total to 25 on the season, this wasn’t vintage Messi. Controlling a 4-on-3 counter in the second half, Messi uncharacteristically overhit a ball for Alexei Sanchez coming in from the left, Courtois about to diffuse the opportunity with an easy scoop of the errant pass. On a typical day, Messi generates a chance on that break, be it for himself or others.
In that sense, Sunday’s result was as informative for what it wasn’t as what it was. Though a extremely entertaining first half faded into Barcelona’s typical siege, Spain’s leaders weren’t at their best. Yet against the second-best team in their league — a team whose form would have them competing for any other title in the world — Barça cruised. At the final whistle, they had a nine-point league lead on Atlético. The gap between them and Real Madrid’s 13.
Perhaps it’s right the match was overshadowed by the Messi-Falcao matchup. Though it featured the two best teams in Spain, the gap between the sides is too great to consider them peers. Messi, for so long considered the best player in the world, is much closer to Falcao in quality than Barcelona is to Atlético Madrid, a fact that speaks to the qualities of both Falcao and the team that beat him.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
The top two remain unchanged, but there’s a major shakeup in elsewhere near the top of our weekly rankings.
Apr 23, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Andrew Dykstra wants to brew you a beer, and several teams have specific offerings in mind.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
The big guns will be firing for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, and there’s plenty of ammunition on both benches if needed.
Apr 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
Reports say David Moyes was “seething” at what he perceived to be an unprofessional dismissal from Manchester United.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
Bad news for England, as Januzaj is headed for a brand new Belgium kit.
Apr 23, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage
Apr 23, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT
Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s SI Now, Donovan spent some time lauding David Moyes and lamenting his dismissal from Manchester United.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
He’s simply one of the worst that’s ever played.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
Shola Ameobi has played a lot of roles during his time at Newcastle; His latest role is vocal critic of the club’s transfer practices.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
The USMNT midfielder posted this shot to his Instagram account on Tuesday, proclaiming his new stars and stripes knee tattoo complete.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
The Champions League will make Liverpool more attractive, says its managing director, and the club will spend money to fortify its team.
Apr 23, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT
Paul Scholes joined former teammates Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt as Manchester United prepared for this week’s match vs Norwich
Apr 23, 2014, 7:32 AM EDT
This is a massive break for the Blaugranas and will no doubt be met with consternation by its rivals.
Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title
Apr 23, 2014, 6:12 AM EDT
Bayern is two steps away from back-to-back titles. Real Madrid’s the same distance from its decima.
Apr 22, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
Ferguson has kept quiet during the club’s latest transition, but according to reporting Tuesday night, he’ll play a part in finding David Moyes’ replacement.
Apr 22, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
With injuries forcing his hand, the Blues’ boss wants to concentrate on Champions League.
Apr 22, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
They only took one point from Vancouver, but LA Galaxy won three spots in this week’s Best XI.
Apr 22, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
Chelsea boss has a big job on his hands ahead of the second leg:
Apr 22, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Mourinho’s approach; Lampard’s card; and the Blues’ two big injuries.
Apr 22, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Chelsea do a job on Atleti, as everything’s up for grabs in the second leg:
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