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article imageLuis Suarez thrives via Barca's crossing to sink valiant Atletico

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 5, 2016 in Sports
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid defines the contrast between proactive and reactive football, and while the former’s strike force has developed into the main talking point recently, here, Fernando Torres played a pivotal role in defining the first leg.
Diego Simeone’s difficulty identifying a replacement for the departed Diego Costa and has seen the Atletico manager sift through several attackers to lead the line. The Atleti manager preferred experience at the Camp Nou by fielding Torres and Antoine Griezmann upfront to press the Barca centre-backs, while Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Saul Niguez stepped forward to the full-backs in the away side’s 4-4-2.
Barca may have lost over the weekend due to an improved Real approach, but for large portions of the match, Luis Enrique’s men were fairly comfortable in possession and were offset by sloppy passing within the final third. Atletico, however, stifled Barca’s play and thwarted the home side’s activity in attacking zones.
Atletico aggressively pressed the hosts higher up the pitch during the opening 20 minutes, and were only troubled by Andres Iniesta’s dribbling, and crosses from the full-backs, Dani Alves, and Jordi Alba, which witnessed Neymar and Lionel Messi squander efforts wide of the net. Afterwards, Simeone shifted Griezmann to the right with Atletico transitioning into a 4-5-1 to clog spaces in central areas and negate the minimal threat from Barca’s full-backs.
While Barca encountered issues finding openings between the lines or behind the defence, Atletico’s best chances quickly broke down due to poor positioning and passing from Torres upfront. Nevertheless, within a 10-minute span the Atletico frontman was involved in the two key moments of the match.
Koke drifted into a pocket of space behind Sergio Busquets to receive possession and quickly slipped a pass into Torres who put Atletico ahead. Then Torres drifted to the left touch-line and delivered an exceptional reverse ball for Griezmann, who darted across Alba, but the Spaniard recovered well to clear his lines.
Torres is renowned for being a striker who thrives off confidence, but throughout his career, glimpses of petulance has equally placed the Atleti striker into disciplinary trouble. Two late cynical challenges on Neymar and Busquets led to Torres’ dismissal, thus forcing Simeone to play in a 4-4-1 with Griezmann upfront.
"I'm not angry with Torres, for sure. It's for you to find out [if it was fair]," Simeone said during a news conference. "It was similar to Arda Turan at the Santiago Bernabeu last year. The referees are there to decide.
"I'm not saying everything I want to say, that's for sure. I'm trying to think about what to say about the game and the refereeing."
Although Atletico closed out the first half well, and their base shape out of possession didn’t require change, the away side were forced to defend narrow and were deprived an outlet to play through on the counter. But with the away side dropping closer to goal — at times Griezmann was defending on his own 18-yard box — Barca constantly surged forward in search of an equalizer.
A key component to Atletico’s success against Barca during the Tata Martino era involved the club’s ability to clog spaces in central areas, which nullified Messi’s threat in the final third. However, the hosts have evolved since, and both goals would be considered atypical prior to Enrique’s arrival due to the use of width, and an attacker besides Messi finishing moves around the six-yard box.
Messi forced Atletico goalkeeper, Jan Oblak, into an important save, whilst Neymar served catalyst to the second half resurgence. The Brazilian cut in from the left to have his shot fly inches wide of the far post — he rattled the cross bar following a similar move — nodded a Rakitic delivery directly at Oblak, and his cross to Messi saw the Argentine’s overhead kick bounce inches wide of the net.
More so, while Alves’ crossing sparked both goals, it equally highlighted the luxury of Suarez leading the line. The Uruguayan offers another dimension to Barca’s attack with his tireless work-rate and the poacher’s instinct the Catalan club has lacked over the past few years.
The equalizer was a redirected tap-in from a botched Alba volley, while the winner was a powerful header in the box Once criticized for being over reliant on Messi, Suarez’s gritty poaching offers an additional element of attack when Barca doesn’t play well.
"Today was the game when he did not have to open spaces, but to get between their centre-backs and get shots in," Enrique said. "What Luis Suarez does for us, not just his goals, but his work and character, is why we decided to sign him."
Simeone’s men stuck to their task for the remainder of the match, yet even with 11-men present, Barca’s best chances stemmed via crosses from the advanced full-backs — an unsurprising route to goal following an improved second half performance against a narrow defensive unit.
Atletico have plenty to play for in the second leg — and may adopt a similar approach as well — but five dismissals in the last five encounters suggests that a lack of discipline has hindered any possibility of success against a Barcelona side possessing multiple routes of attack.
More about atletico, Barcleona, Atletico Madrid, uefa champions league, Diego Simeone
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