Champions Barça celebrated their 22nd La Liga title with the most unlikely victory over Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderon tonight. A goal down to Radamel Falcao’s 50th minute strike there appeared to be little chance of a Barça comeback when Leo Messi left the field with a recurrence of his muscular injury, leaving the team with ten men with just over twenty minutes remaining. However, Alexis Sanchez equalized out of the blue and then a comical own goal from Gabi Fernandez gave Barça the three points.
Games between Atlético and Barça so often produce spectacular contests but there was little in the first 30 minutes to suggest we were going to see anything special tonight. With neither side really needing the points there was a lack of intensity which resulted in little goalmouth action.
Atlético generally sat back to soak up Barça’s timid attacks though the danger of Falcao was seen early on when he sprinted away from Piqué but failed to get much power on his low left foot shot and Pinto dived to make an easy save. Dani Alves was pushing high on the right side but his crossing was not good while Cristian Tello was active on the left but he let himself down with some poor control.
There was imprecision from both sides. Atlético threatened little, their best chance falling to Koke who fired wide after Falcao’s assist. Adrian Lopez showed his class with one dribble past Jordi Alba but he lost control after breaking into the area. With Alex Song and Fabregas filling in for Busquets and Xavi there was a clunkier look to Barça’s midfield. Iniesta was Barça’s most creative player but his final ball, whether looking for Fabregas’s forward runs or Alexis cutting in from the right, was not finding the mark. Messi was playing very deep but with little success until the 31st minute when he sent a brilliant defence splitting pass through to Tello but the youngster lost control as he tried to cut inside Godin.
Tello became more involved near the end of the half. First he set up Messi for a chance but the Argentinian skied his shot well over. Then Messi went on an electric run across the edge of the area before finding Tello in space but again his control was poor and his cross was cleared by Miranda. On the stroke of half time a long cross from Alexis reached Tello who despite a difficult angle fired in a wicked curling shot that went a whisker wide of the far post.
With Bartrá on for the injured Alves Barça reorganised the defence with Adriano moving to right back. Early in the second half Bartrá made a mistake bringing the ball out, Piqué failed to make the tackle on Gabi who from the floor managed to knock the ball forward to Falcao. Neither Bartrá nor Song got across in time and Falcao beat Pinto to put Atlético in front.
There was little reaction from Barça so Tito Vilanova decided to take a big risk by using both remaining substitutes with half an hour still to play. The wisdom of using all three substitutions so early is definitely questionable but bringing on Busquets and Villa for Song and Adriano while switching to a defence of three was certainly throwing caution to the wind.
However, initially Barça had a couple of attempts, both from Alexis, though Atlético’s counters now looked much more dangerous and Barça were fortunate when Arda Turan lost control on the edge of the area. Atlético coach Diego Simeone was probably thinking about next Friday’s Copa del Rey final when he replaced Turan and Falcao, but when Messi walked off injured in the 69th minute leaving Barça with ten men few could have expected what was to come.
Only the most optimistic of culés could have expected to get anything from the game now. The team was not playing well and the changes only seemed to create more confusion. However, in the 72nd minute Alexis went on a run between two players before finding Fabregas inside the area and continuing his run to receive Cesc’s return ball and beat Courtois with a toe-poke into the corner.
Vilanova switched to a 4-4-1 with Busquets at centre back with Piqué, and Bartrá at right back, while Villa hardly had a touch playing the lone front role. Then in the 80th minute Tello managed to get forward on the left. His first cross was again off target but the ball came back to him and he sped past the right back before pulling the ball back to Villa about ten yards out, Villa swung at the ball, sending an awful shot that was going well wide until it hit Gabi who could nothing to get out of the way and only succeeded in kneeing the ball past the unfortunate Courtois. In Spain people often talk about “the luck of the champions” and this was definitely worthy of that phrase.
Atlético were probably too stunned to make much of a reaction. Barça’s defence finally started to look more solid though Pinto had to dive to punch away a deflected shot from Diego Costa. Keeper Courtois went forward for two injury time set pieces but Barça held on without much worry for an improbable win.
Atlético: Coutois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Insúa; Tiago, Gabi; Adrian (Oliver Torres m75), Arda Turan (Cristian Rodriguez m64), Koke; Falcao (Diego Costa m67).
Barça: Pinto 7, Alves 6 (Bartrá m42, 5.5), Piqué 5, Adriano 7 (Villa m60, 5.5), Alba 6.5; Fabregas 5.5, Song 5.5 (Busquets m60, 7), Iniesta 6; Alexis 6.5, Messi 6, Tello 7.
Goals: m50 Falcao 1-0, m72 Alexis 1-1, m80 Gabi (o.g.) 1-2.
Yellow cards: m72 Alexis, m74 Fabregas, m90 Insúa.