Barça v Atlético: Uncertainty Reigns
A top of the table clash resulted in a stalemate in Catalonia on Saturday, as league leaders Atlético Madrid kept nearest challengers Barcelona at bay for the time being. Sofía Villegas Navarro reports.
The race for La Liga is wide open as neither Los Rojiblancos nor Les Blaugranas managed to take the upperhand on Saturday at Camp Nou. With this goalless draw, Barca blow off their chance of getting a grasp of La Liga leadership. Despite there being three matches left, the image of the cup getting dressed with red and blue stripes is blurrier by the minute.
The first 40 minutes of the match were clearly dominated by Diego Simeone’s men. Their first chance came from Angel Correa’s boot. Mario Hermoso ran down the left wing and then crossed to the striker. Thankfully for Barça, Clement Lenglet managed to prevent the one-on-one by sticking his foot out to block.
Atléico then had two more chances to open the scoring in less than two minutes. With 33 minutes on the clock, Yannick Carrasco pulled forward down the left wing and crossed the ball for Marcos Llorente who was inside the box. A good chance, but a soft shot which Marc-André ter Stegen easily saved. Less than a minute later, Luis Suárez struck the ball from the bottom left corner of the box, which once again the German goalkeeper eaily saved by throwing himself to the ground.
Later, beautiful passing again led to a strong shot, one that Ter Stegen does well to deny again. As the ball was left in the air, Suárez went for a header, and Barça’s goalkepper cuffed the ball off the Uruguayan’s head to prevent any danger. The former Blaugrana player fell to the ground straight after, claiming a penalty, as Ter Stegen angrily told him to ‘‘get up”.
Finally, Barca’s only opportunity for goal came from the one and only Lionel Messi. The Argentinian turned on the halfway line, and dribbled past Saul, Koke, Hermoso and Llorente to find himself inside the box. What could’ve been one of the goals of the season turned out to be one of the saves of the year, as Jan Oblak managed to tip it past the post.
With this last spectacular moment from Messi, the game went into half-time with a 0-0 record as the chances of a La Liga title in the balance for both sides.
It seemed the 15 minute break served as a wake up call for Ronald Koeman’s men to step up their game. The first chance to find the back of the net came from the young talent Illaix Moriba. A cross from Jordi Alba left the ball in front of the goal for the 18-year-old to finish, however, Hemoso placed his foot in front to divert the shot for a corner. Two minutes later, Messi floated the ball in from outside the box and Gerard Pique reached for a header, which went straight into Oblak’s hands.
It came as no surprise when Simeone changed Saul for Joao Felix. A much needed input of fresh blood for the colchoneros side, after two near goals from the home team.
Indeed, Ronald Aaurado briefly opened the scoreboard for the Catalan team. However, the shot was clearly offside and it was quickly chopped off by the referee.
The golden opportunity to give Barça their much needed win came from Ousmane Dembele, who came on the pitch for Sergino Dest midway through the second half. A cross from Messi left the French player in sopace for a clear opportunity of goal but, inexplicably, he was unable to direct the header on target.
Messi ended the match with a thrill. A foul gave La Pulga a free kick – a position from where he is known for amazing goals. Gratefully for Simeone’s squad, the strike went off right and they managed to leave the game with one point, and current table toppers of La Liga. At least, until Real Madrid play Sevilla on Sunday night.
For the Madrid squad, all three yellow cards were the outcome of a single aim: stop Messi by any means necessary. Saul, Felipe and Koke fouled Messi, on occasions when the Argentinian was all set to find the back of the net. For Koeman’s men, Alba, Pique and Moriba saw yellow for pulling Atletico’s players back and cyncially denying counter attacks.
Both teams leave the battle with worrying injury prospects. On Atlético’s side, Thomas Lemar had to leave only 15 minutes into the first half after what appeared to be a blow to his hamstring. On their end Les Cules should keep an eye out for Sergio Busquets. The Spanish national team player had to leave the field after an ugly collision with Stefan Savic, which left him with a bleeding nose. Later on in the match, it was reported that Busquets had to be taken into hospital for a check up.
In the post-match interview, Pique said “We are still alive in the chase for the title. It wasn’t to be but we know the situation we are in. I think this is a title race that is still very much wide open.”
Simeone said “The game transpired as we wanted it to. We attacked well through pressing them and recovering the ball. We were great in the first half, and the second was more even.”
This record is just enough to keep Atléico top of the table with 77 points, whilst Barça sit on 75. It may jusgt be goal difference that keeps Atléti top by 10pm on Sunday, should Real Madrid beat fourth placed Sevilla at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.