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 18, 2015, 4:42 PM EDT
A pair of Premier League matches are ready for your Sunday viewing pleasure, and take note that one features a different broadcast channel.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:20 PM EDT
Here’s what happened in Saturday’s five matches.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
Seventy-seven percent of this weekend’s Bundesliga results are in the books, and Germany is still waiting for its first upset.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:56 PM EDT
Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney felt his team did enough to top Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but the score line says otherwise.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:39 PM EDT
Van Gaal: “We played the best match of the season but in football you can lose.”
Apr 18, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Here’s what we learned from Chelsea’s narrow win over United.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:28 PM EDT
United stays third, one point behind second-place Arsenal.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:13 PM EDT
Arsenal had 71 percent possession as late as the 80th minute, but the score remained deadlocked at one.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT
Have Saints’ faint top four hopes been all but ended?
Apr 18, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Hear what the Foxes’ boss had to say about Leicester’s big win.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:06 PM EDT
Potters stage second half comeback to stun Saints.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:59 AM EDT
Palace’s table charge is momentarily halted, as Alan Pardew’s boys sit 11th with 42 points.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Toffees five unbeaten, send Clarets bottom of the table.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:53 AM EDT
Leicester is even with 17th place Hull on points and a single point behind Sunderland, with a match in hand on both.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:40 AM EDT
James Morrison had scored in the second minute for the Baggies’ first tally.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:34 AM EDT
It’s a big one, folks, with the two of the Premier League’s best tangling at Stamford Bridge.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT
The FA has switched things around and will still give the kid a chance to walk onto the Wembley pitch before an upcoming England match.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:49 AM EDT
Set piece goals are the name of a pair of early games, as four Premier League matches dot the weekend landscape. Live stream link inside.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT
Bafetimbi Gomis is out for Swansea City, putting more focus on Ki Sung-yeung and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT
Crystal Palace has been humming, with Yannick Bolasie coming off a hat trick for the Eagles.
- Premier League Sunday preview: Can Spurs, Man City find hope versus Newcastle, West Ham? 0
- Premier League roundup: Chelsea closer to title; Leicester climb off the bottom 0
- Despite defeat to Chelsea, Louis van Gaal hails Manchester United’s “best match of season” 0
- Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Manchester United 1
- Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United: Hazard leads defensive Blues past Red Devils (video) 0
- Arsenal 2-1 Reading: Alexis helps Gunners clinch FA Cup final berth 0