Dec 16, 2012, 5:08 PM EST
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.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:52 AM EST
Huge relegation six-pointer at Loftus Road. Watch it live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:51 AM EST
Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic will form the Tigers strike force.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:47 AM EST
Can the Clarets upset Spurs at White Hart Lane? Watch live.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
Can the Saints stop their slide against the Toffees? Watch live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:41 AM EST
Andy Carroll starts up top with Diafra Sakho, with Stewart Downing in support.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:36 AM EST
Citizens go level on points with Chelsea at the top of the PL.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:23 AM EST
United looks to keep back with their noisy neighbors this morning on NBCSN.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:08 AM EST
The NBC team discuss when Lamps may head stateside.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:11 AM EST
Sterling, 20, follows the likes of Rooney, Messi and Aguero after being named the best youngster in European soccer.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:20 AM EST
Can the Citizens make it six wins on the spin without a striker? Watch live, here.
Dec 20, 2014, 7:10 AM EST
How and where to watch every single PL game from Week 17 live online or via the app.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:20 PM EST
Harry Redknapp believes he could be Ravel Morrison’s “last chance” to prove he is ready to play top-flight football.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:25 PM EST
Since returning from injury, the England international has been key to United’s six-game win streak.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Rog and Davo are joined by Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael, who discusses her short stint selling hot dogs at St. Mary’s and the rivalry between Southampton and Portsmouth.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
With 45 points through 17 matches, Bayern Munich is having the best season in Bundesliga history.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
The opening weekend of MLS play features Orlando City SC and New York City FC facing off in a battle of expansion teams.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:10 PM EST
Newcastle and Sunderland may be bitter rivals, but their managers are telling supporters to behave on Sunday.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:20 PM EST
The Blues’ boss said his Belgian playmaker can become a Chelsea legend, but must win titles first.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
England’s number one keeper finally put pen to paper with a new deal that will keep him at the Etihad until 2019.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EST
The Leicester City boss was also fined $15,000 by the FA following his altercation with a fan.
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