Apr 1, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
Three hundred sixty minutes that leave two teams at a stalemate would normally be considered useless. After all, isn’t the point of competition to compete, with side eventually deemed the winner? Over short periods of time, draws are practical, but over 360 minutes? What’s the use of a stalemate if crowning the winner is our goal?
Four games this season from Atlético Madrid and Barcelona have challenged that notion. Except for the most partisan of Blaugrana and Atleti supporters, few could have cared about which side won today. Such a result would have distracted from the purpose, if not undermined it entirely. Barcelona’s full technical precision was again on display, pressed to its limits by an Atlético side that’s taken a completely contrasting approach. Eschewing the game’s new dogma of possession and midfield dominance, Atleti reaffirmed their status as Barcelona’s equals, a status made all the more brilliant as they’ve brought out their opponents’ best while doing so.
Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say so, but it feel true right now: Today’s was one of the best-played games of the European season, something we’d be fawning over if we hadn’t seen it three times before. We saw it twice in August, when the teams played 0-0 and 1-1 matches in the Spanish Supercopa. We saw it again in January as the side waged 0-0 in La Liga. The same qualities that have vaulted Diego Simeone’s team to the top of the Spanish table force Barcelona to use every bit of their technical mastery just to keep up, just as the Blaugrana’s nearly unmatched, exacting control bleeds every drop of effort from the Colchoneros.
It’s the perfect match of opposing styles. It’s soccer’s yin against football’s yang. It’s modernism, possession, and technique matched against timeless emotion and organization. It’s a team that looks beyond the typical trappings of athleticism and brawn facing a side that leverages their power to complement their passion. From the same league, both sporting Argentine coaches, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid couldn’t be more different, yet, after each set of 90 minutes they play, the scoresheet’s left them beautifully identical.
It’s a contrast makes results like today’s 1-1 special – more valuable than a win could have been for either side. Because at this point, a victory would defeat the purchase. The battle’s balance of physique, application, and philosophy has produced some of the best soccer of our lifetimes: what’s become a 360-minute marathon, where each side has brought evermore perfect free soccer out of the other.
Would this same perfection be able to beat Bayern, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, or any of our time’s other great teams? In the wake of what we saw today at the Nou Camp, it’s a scornful view. It’s simple, greedy, short-sighted. It overlooks the obvious: This matchup, over the course of what will six games (by the time the teams meet on the last day of the Spanish season) has given us everything we could have reasonable asked for. To turn off today’s game and ask for something better is to take to watch another sport.
In a sphere were we obsess over results and define quality in terms of bottom lines, Atlético and Barça remind us of the bigger picture. Sport, ultimately, is meaningless, which means there’s nay so much significance you can put into a win or a loss. On a more basic level, the game is as much about the enjoyment is provides as the result. Talent, mastery, performance, and love all translate to victories, but no game can been seen in terms of its victor alone. The game only exists where two teams can meet, and in the space, through four matchups this season, Barcelona and Atlético have provided more enjoyment than was could have possibly expected.
It is, admittedly, a romantic notion, written while still reflecting on today’s game. There is, however, the unmistakable feeling that we’re seeing something special – a confluence that defies comparison in terms of its style, results, and, now meeting in Champions League, stakes.
And ironically, as those stakes escalate, determining a winner becomes even less important. In fact, it may ruin everything if, over the teams’ final two games for the season, anything but esoteric tiebreakers put distance between them. Let away goals decide who advances in Champions League, and let other results determine who claims La Liga.
But in the battle that really matters — the one we’ll get to see two more times this year — let nothing throw off this perfect, symbiotic balance. If anything, find a way to make these games last longer.
May 23, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
The Real Madrid president reportedly met with Ancelotti’s agent to tell him they are likely going to part ways.
May 23, 2015, 11:32 AM EDT
Stuttgart won big to earn safety and send Hamburg to another nerve-wracking playoff.
May 23, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
The final home match for one of Dortmund’s most successful managers is looking to be a special one at Westfalenstadion.
May 23, 2015, 9:34 AM EDT
The future of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford is very much in doubt as a former Premier League manager has given the Dutchman a very tough decision.
May 23, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
We all knew it already, but Sami Khedira will leave Real Madrid after five seasons. Where will he land?
May 23, 2015, 8:18 AM EDT
How can Hull City or Newcastle avoid relegation? Who will qualify for the Europa League? Find out all the scenarios for the final day here.
May 23, 2015, 12:37 AM EDT
Final: LA Galaxy 1-0 Houston Dynamo
May 22, 2015, 10:31 PM EDT
Final: Columbus Crew 2-2 Chicago Fire
May 22, 2015, 9:52 PM EDT
PSG is willing to dish out the cash to bring Ronaldo to France. The problem? He would have to leave his built-up glory at Madrid behind him.
May 22, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
PST’s Joe-Prince Wright discussed the final relegation battle between Hull City and Newcastle United.
May 22, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Mancini: “If we find players with the right characteristics, we’ll be able to improve the existing players in our squad as well. It won’t be easy….”
May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Ivory Coast manager Hervé Renard is leaving on good terms and with a new challenge ahead of him at Lille.
May 22, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Mexico will have a roster full of their talent from Europe for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Despite calling himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, Sepp Blatter didn’t recognize Alex Morgan
May 22, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
FIFA president Blatter called himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer earlier this month, yet he couldn’t recognize one of the biggest stars in the game.
May 22, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Preview of Chelsea-Sunderland match on Championship Sunday, available to watch on NBCSN beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 3:54 PM EDT
As usual, several Americans are ready to take the pitch in Europe this weekend.
May 22, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
If the Magpies win they will survive on the final day. Watch them host West Ham live on USA, online via Live Extra, 10 a.m. ET.
May 22, 2015, 2:52 PM EDT
Are the Red Bulls willing to take a risk on Osvaldo to bolster their attacking options?
May 22, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Can the Tigers pull off a “great escape” on the final day? Watch live on NBC at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
May 22, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The Red Devils boss is confident DDG will be around next season.
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