European Football

La Liga: Atletico look Barca in the eye

Vicente_Calderon_A2 (400x271)It was billed as the game of the season in La Liga so far and it didn’t disappoint. There were no goals, but it was a high quality contest between two teams on the top of their game. There is little dispute now that the Spanish title will be decided between these two clubs, with the return match on the final day of the season at the Nou Camp.

Everyone loves Barca for the quality of their football and for the superb skills of Lionel Messi. Unlike Real, who many seem to regard as arrogant, Barca have earned enormous respect worldwide. Atletico, if nothing else, deserve to win praise for making La Liga far more interesting this year than in the past few seasons – we may see the Barca-Real stranglehold broken.

Atletico hadn’t beaten Barca since 2009-10 season and in the past three meetings in the league at the Vicente Calderon stadium, Barca had won 2-1 on each occasion.

They started well in this game, with Arda Turan catching the eye in the opening stages. He almost breached the Barca defence when he tricked his way past two players and sent the ball into the area, only for Pique to nod away from danger.

Diego Costa was always a menace and he had a couple of first-half chances that were very close to breaking the deadlock. Having survived Atletico’s early enthusiasm, Barca settled and grabbed control. But by the interval, it was clear that it would take something special to change the stalemate.

One man who usually does that sort of thing for a living is Messi and when he came on  as a second half substitute, you could feel the tension among the Atletico Madrid faithful. Neymar also came on later, underlining the depth of talent Barca have at their disposal.

Neymar was lucky not be punished for a cynical foul on Turan which didn’t even earn the young Brazilian a yellow card.

The game swung back to Atletico and in the closing stages, Costa spurned some good chances. But then Messi woke up and only a  good save from Thibaud Courtois prevented a goal. Why Chelsea haven’t recalled this excellent keeper from his rollover loan period, is a mystery.

Goalless it may have been, but this was an entertaining 0-0 draw. Atletico have shown their credentials are genuine, but at some point they will need to better their title rivals if they are to end the campaign on top. It’s going to be interesting to watch them both slug it out. If nothing else, it would be nice to see someone other than Barca triumphant.

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