Neymar Jr came off the substitutes’ bench to score his first official goal for Barça and earn a hard fought 1-1 draw with Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the 2013 Supercopa at the Vicente Calderón stadium tonight. Ex-blaugrana David Villa volleyed his new team into an early lead as Barça failed to find the same rhythm as seen in Sunday’s 7-0 hammering of Levante. Leo Messi was forced to come off at half time with a bruised thigh with the score at 1-0 with Cesc Fabregas replacing him as false nine. However, it was the introduction of Neymar for Pedro that paid dividends with the €57 million signing heading in from Alves’s cross to give Barça a good result to take back for next Wednesday’s return leg at Camp Nou.
Tata Martino made just two changes to the XI that hammered Levante 7-0 on Sunday. Jordi Alba reclaimed the left-back spot in place of the suspended Adriano while Andrés Iniesta replaced the in-form Fabregas in midfield. As Martino had indicated, Neymar again started the game on the substitutes’ bench. Diego Simeone went with the same Atlético line-up that began the league with a 1-3 win at Sevilla, so David Villa started as the main striker against his ex-team, with Diego Costa playing on the right in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
There was little between the teams in the opening exchanges. Barça had little time to settle on the ball and struggled to penetrate the last third of the pitch while Atlético’s aggressive approach was demonstrated by Diego Costa’s unsporting grab at Jordi Alba’s hair after a foul on the Barça full-back. Barça’s best effort came in the tenth minute after Messi’s quick dribble and chipped pass found Alba who knocked the ball inside to Pedro but the final shot was going wide as Courtois dived across to gather.
Two minutes later Messi was robbed 35 yards from Atlético’s goal, a quick break up the left and the ball came to Villa who played it out to Arda Turan who crossed back to Villa who met the ball in the inside left position on the edge of the area with a terrific right-foot volley across Valdés into the far corner. One-nil Atlético, and Barça’s questionable performance in the transfer market this summer was highlighted by Villa’s strike.
Villa was obviously lifted by the goal. Four minutes later, after being brought down by Mascherano on the half way line, he got up to fire an audacious free kick which had Valdés rushing back to watch the ball go just over. There was little reaction from Barça, one 25-yarder from Messi that went well wide and one dangerous cross from Alves that just eluded Alexis’s jump.
Xavi and Iniesta were finding things difficult against Atlético’s hard-working midfield and both were guilty of losing possession. Atlético’s tough tackling continued to slow Barça’s flow but eventually referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco showed yellow cards to Juanfran and Filipe Luis for fouls on Alexis and Alves, respectively, while Busquets went into the book for stopping Mario Suarez’s counter attack. Mascherano and Piqué stayed alert to the threat from Atlético’s other attempts at countering while Barça’s attack was reduced to a few crosses into the area which were all caught by Atlético’s keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Half time arrived and Wednesday turned into Thursday as the second half began. With Fabregas in place of the ineffective Messi, Barça began to create more danger. In the 49th minute Pedro sent a great ball into the area for Alexis, Courtois dived to save at Alexis’s feet but Alexis recovered the ball and quickly squared to Fabregas but as the Barça player lifted his foot to shoot he was brought down by the contact made with Arda Turan who was running in behind him.
A couple of minutes later Iniesta tried his luck from 25 yards but Courtois got across to save. At the other end Koke’s free kick cross nearly sneaked in at the far post after clearing everybody’s head. Martino called for Neymar who came on in place of Pedro on the left. However, soon after an intricate Atlético move in from the right led to a shot from Diego Costa that Valdés needed to be alert to stop.
In the 63rd minute Busquets was slightly fortunate not to receive a second yellow card after a foul on Villa which led to several Atlético players surrounding Undiano in protest. Busquets stayed on and three minutes later Barça were level. Alves attacked down the right, playing the ball inside to Xavi and then receiving the return and sending in a cross to the far post where Neymar arrived magnificently to leap and head down between Courtois and the near post.
Atlético tried to react. In the 68th minute Arda sent a fine ball for Villa to chase, the ex-Barça man managed to get goal side of Piqué but his shot was from a tight angle and Valdés had it covered at the near post. Atlético tired in the final twenty minutes with Simeone replacing Koke, Arda and Diego Costa with Oliver Torres, Leo Baptistao and Christian Rodriguez. Barça looked the more likely winner but there were few real opportunities, the best coming after Fabregas found Alexis at the far post but after a good control Courtois turned the Chilean’s effort out for a corner.
Shortly before the end Martino made a move that may be a sign of future battle plans when he brought on Alex Song in place of Xavi and installed the Cameroonian as a double pivot alongside Busquets. An interesting move but there was not enough time to see its effectiveness, by the end Atlético had little more to give in the way of chasing and Barça kept possession with few problems. Camp Nou will now decide this season’s Supercopa in a week’s time. Another match to be played at the ridiculous time of 11 pm, does nobody think about the poor bloggers and journalists working so long and hard into the small hours. Good night people, it’s by bedtime now!
Atlético: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe Luis; Mario Suárez; Diego Costa (Christian Rodriguez m79), Gabi, Koke (Oliver Torres m73), Arda Turan (Baptistao m76); Villa.
Barça: Valdés 6; Alves 6.5, Pique 7, Mascherano 7.5, Alba 6; Xavi 6.5 (Song m89, –), Busquets 7, Iniesta 6; Alexis 6.5, Messi 6 (Fabregas h/t, 7), Pedro 6 (Neymar m59, 7).
Goals: m12 Villa 1-0, m66 Neymar 1-1
Yellow cards: m36 Juanfran, m39 Filipe Luis, m43 Busquets, m56 Mario Suárez, m65 Alba, m86 Neymar.