TUESDAY 1ST APRIL 2014 – LAST 8 FIRST LEG
BARCELONA 1-1 ATLETICO MADRID
A string of wonderful saves from Atletico keeper Thibuat Courtois kept Atletico in the tie with a 1-1 draw away at Barcelona after a fantastic strike from Diego had put the Madrid side ahead, giving them the all-important away goal with the return leg still to come.
It is the 4th time these sides had met this season, and for the 4th time the game ended in a draw. Something will need to settle these sides as the return leg in eight days will eliminate one of them, and then there is also the little matter of both sides playing each other at the end of the season, presumably to settle the La Liga title.
The game started to follow a similar patter as the other 3 previous games, Atleti starting brightly but soon fading when Barca started playing their familiar brand of keep ball. In the opening 45 minutes there were tame headers from both Neymar and Lionel Messi that were routinely saved by Courtois and a surperb block by Diego Godin on Andres Iniesta prevented him opening the scoring following a superb piece of play by Messi.
In the opening 12 minutes Gerard Pique was taken off with a hairline fracture to his pelvis after jumping over Diego Costa attempting to get the ball. This will keep the Catalan player off for around 4 weeks. It was the Diego Costa’s turn to leave the pitch injured, pulling up with a suspected hamstring injury – Diego, the goal scorer, replacing him.
The first half was always going to be a tight affair, and goals should have been scored, Atletico’s indiscipline ensured freekicks were given away in dangerous positions, and Barca keeper Pinto was nervous when collecting every ball.
The second half started as the first ended, a host of freekicks given away from Atleti however nothing came of them. Then the moment of the match came, Gabi rolling a freekick to Diego, and from all of 30 yards out the Brazilian hammered the ball home past the flaying Pinto. It was an incredible strike to put the Madrid side into the lead, and giving them the important away goal.
This seemed to spark Barca into life, ensuring a fantastic half hour of football from both sides, Barca trying to claw themselves back into the game, and Atleti trying to hold of and get another to secure the game.
Soon after Courtois saved brilliantly from Busquets as pressed and Iniesta had appeals for a free-kick waved away by the referee. Then on 71 minutes, the largely ineffective Neymar latched onto a fantastic Iniesta ball, sweeping the ball past Courtois to bring them back into the game.
Two more brilliant saves by the big Belgian keeper kept Barca at bay – firstly from a stike by Iniesta from the edge of the box, the keeper somehow turning it around his post and then from Messi as he tipped his freekick over.
This was a fantastic result for Atleti, holding Barca at the Camp Nou is always a positive sign. The need to keep a clean sheet, or simply outscore the Catalan side in 8 days’ time, and there is no other keeper who is on better form than Courtois to help their cause. Next weeks’ fixture is shaping up to be a must watch for any football fan.
BARCELONA: Pinto, Alves, Piqué (Bartra 12), Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas (Alexis Sanchez 68), Iniesta, Neymar, Messi.
SUBS NOT USED: Oier, Adriano, Song, Sergi Roberto, Pedro.
GOALS: Neymar 71
BOOKINGS: Alba, Iniesta.
ATLETICO: Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe, Tiago, Gabi, Koke, Arda Turan (Rodriguez 77), Diego Costa (Diego 29), David Villa (Sosa 70).
SUBS NOT USED: Aranzubia, Suarez, Alderweireld, Insúa.
GOALS: Diego 57
BOOKINGS: Juanfran, Arda Turan, Gabi, Koke, Diego, Sosa.
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