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.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
Are Saints about to lose another young star to one of the Premier League’s “big five?” We’ll find out this summer.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:52 PM EDT
Kane will join England’s U-21 squad for this summer’s European Championship.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT
No fun for 70 minutes, and then the final 20 happened. TFC’s criminally disallowed goal was the only difference in this one.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
There’s a real reason, other than “easy schedule,” for England’s improved performances since the World Cup.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:58 PM EDT
Sterling isn’t interested in negotiating a new deal until the summer — even if it’s for $270,000/week — and a few reassurances are made.
Mar 29, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Who’s on top of Groups D, F and I at the halfway point?
Mar 29, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Luis Suarez was candid as ever after Gerrard’s charity match, and he opened up the possibility of a Premier League return down the road.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Thierry Henry showed off his sparkling passing skills at Steven Gerrard’s testimonial.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT
The United States loses one of their goalscorers from Friday’s friendly, but now it’s a youngster’s turn to make a statement.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:14 AM EDT
A whopping turnaround, led by owner Katharina Liebherr, has taken place at St. Mary’s and the financial evidence is there.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
If Adnan Januzaj wants to make a return to the Belgium squad, he must focus on earning playing time at his club first.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:13 AM EDT
An agreement has reportedly been reached between the current American owner and a domestic ownership group.
Mar 29, 2015, 7:34 AM EDT
Gareth Bale knows what people are saying about his recent play at Real Madrid, but he’s not listening.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from Week 4 of the MLS season.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:41 PM EDT
A disappointing result for FCD, given Seattle’s lack of Dempsey and Martins, but a great one considering their early red card.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:06 PM EDT
Three more points for Vancouver, who win it late on Robert Earnshaw’s Whitecaps debut. He scores for everyone.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
It was the late, late, late show at RFK Stadium, and despite being thoroughly outplayed, D.C. United go home with three points.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:04 PM EDT
Sporting KC get their first victory of the season, while NYCFC suffer their first defeat of the year — and history.
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