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.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:41 PM EDT
From Alvarado to Zardes with Najar in between, Andy Edwards tells you what he saw in Frisco.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Next up in Group A is a Friday doubleheader in Foxborough, with Panama and Honduras opening the evening for the U.S. and Haiti.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Ruiz will join a potent attack with Islam Slimani and Fredy Montero.
Jul 7, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
The idea of gold playing a big role is nice, although only the red separate this look from the Philadelphia Union.
Jul 7, 2015, 9:06 PM EDT
Duckens Moses Nazon, take a bow: Your 86th minute goal helped start the 2015 Gold Cup in style.
Jul 7, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT
Michael Bradley assumes the captain’s armband from Clint Dempsey and will earn cap No. 100 for his career in the Gold Cup.
Jul 7, 2015, 8:21 PM EDT
It’s certainly one of those press releases that makes you think, “Well, I had just assumed that happened, but thanks for confirming.”
Jul 7, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT
All this on the heels of the USWNT announced as the first female team to received a ticker tape parade down New York City’s Canyon of Heroes.
Jul 7, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT
You get the feeling it’s impossible not to be motivated when Steven Gerrard is your teammate. Now toss in Robbie Keane.
Jul 7, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
The last female to receive a ticker tape parade down that route was 1960 Olympic figure skating gold medalist Carol Heiss Jenkins.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT
Their “no-name” defense hasn’t allowed a goal in four matches, and Canada could surprise you this month.
United States midfielder Lauren Holiday announces plans to retire with Women’s World Cup title in hand
Jul 7, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Lauren Holiday, 27, scored the eventual game-winning goal in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.
Lampard talks club, challenge, Gerrard: “For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was” (video)
Jul 7, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
“For me this is as much of a challenge as Chelsea was, as Man City was,” Lampard said. “I play football to win.”
Jul 7, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
PST’s staff predict how the Gold Cup will play out as the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica clash to become CONCACAF champs.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
Altidore and Dempsey will lead the attack. But who else is in reserve?
Jul 7, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Is he in the top five of superstars to join North America’s top-flight since the DP rule was introduced?
Jul 7, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Will Yedlin start on the right? Have Bradley and Mix got the center locked down?
Jul 7, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
A man who’ll go down as one of the USMNT’s all-time greats hits 100 caps tonight. A few thoughts on Il Generale.
Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Day 1 of the 2015 Gold Cup is here, as the U.S. starts its title defense with a showdown in Texas.
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