Barça claimed the first title of the 2013/14 season after beating Atlético Madrid on away goals in the Spanish Supercopa. Neither team could score at Camp Nou meaning Neymar Jr’s equalizer last week at the Vicente Calderón proved decisive for Barça’s victory. Barça might have won tonight’s game after Atlético were reduced to ten men for the final minutes, then Leo Messi fired an 89th-minute penalty against the crossbar and the game remained goalless, leaving a slightly subdued feeling to the victory celebrations.
Tata Martino decided it was time for Neymar to make the starting XI which with Leo Messi recovering in time from his thigh injury meant that the 74,536 fans at Camp Nou who braved the 11 pm kick off were rewarded with the chance to see the Brazilian and the Argentinian start a match together for the first time. Martino showed once again that he is not concerned about players’ reputations by leaving Andrés Iniesta on the bench for the second time in four games. Fabregas returned to midfield as Barça lined up with Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas, Alexis, Messi and Neymar. Diego Simeone started with the same team as in the first leg of Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis, Mario Suarez, Diego Costa, Koke, Gabi, Arda Turan and David Villa, in the same defensive 4-1-4-1 formation.
Atlético’s approach was made clear early on with two fouls by Arda Turan on Messi in the first six minutes. However, Barça started brightly and in the seventh minute Sergio Busquets sent a magnificent pass through to Messi who controlled well but Filipe Luis was very quick to slide in and divert the ball back to Courtois. A couple of minutes later Alba got forward on the left but his cross bounced just out of reach of Alexis at the far post.
The early positive signs didn’t last for long as Atlético’s tight aggressive defensive game broke Barça’s rhythm. Atlético committed eight fouls in the first 25 minutes before referee Fernández Borbalán showed the first yellow card of the game to Koke. Soon after Fabregas joined Koke in the book after what seemed like a fair challenge on Diego Costa. Then on the 30-minute mark Busquets also saw yellow after protesting the referee’s leniency as Arda once more brought down Messi.
The game was not going in Barça’s favour. All the Atlético fouls were far enough from goal to make the free kicks innocuous. Then in the 35th minute Atlético finally broke forward, Diego Costa squared to Gabi who knocked it into the path of Koke who fired a low shot from just outside the area that Valdés needed to dive to save.
Barça tried to hit back with Messi trying to worm his way into a shooting position, the ball broke out as far as Fabregas but his header went straight to Courtois. Then in the 42nd minute an Atlético attack down the left caused Barça’s defence problems, the ball bounced into Arda’s path and after leaving Piqué on the floor he sent in a toe-poke that Valdés did brilliantly to turn round the post for a corner. There was still time before half time for Alexis to head over from Messi’s cross but Barça had now been warned of the rojiblanco threat.
It was clear from the start of the second half that Atlético intended to play higher up the pitch. Barça’s rhythm was no better than in the first half, neither Xavi nor Fabregas had his best game and the connection between the front three players was a long way from that hoped for. Barça’s defence coped well with the early second-half thrusts from Atlético until the 56th minute when Mascherano tried to bring the ball out instead of making a quick clearance, allowing Arda the chance to rob the ball, knocking it back to Villa who whipped in a quick low shot forcing Valdés into another very good diving save.
Neymar had shown the occasional glimpse of his acceleration but he suffered as much as anybody from being fouled. One time he zipped past Juanfran but his low cross found nobody. Then he robbed the ball near the corner flag before exchanging passes with Xavi and then sending in Fabregas who did well to keep the ball from running out of play but only to see it end up in the hands of Courtois. Pedro came on in place of Alexis and soon after Alves sent in a cross from the right which found Neymar unmarked by the corner of the goal area at the far post, however, with everybody expected a volley on goal the Brazilian hooked the ball back across the area and again he failed to find a teammate.
Messi was trying to penetrate more, but his dribbles and one-twos into the area were being thwarted by the alert Atlético defence. Iniesta came on for Fabregas butAtlético’s foul play continued to frustrate Barça with Fernández Borbalán’s apparent complicity. Gabi’s foul on Busquets in the 78th minute was the 7th of the match from the Atlético midfielder but still he didn’t see the referee’s yellow card.
Then in the 80th minute Filipe Luis tangled off the ball with Alves, arms were swung and Alves went down, the referee was only alerted to the incident by the linesman on the far side of the pitch. After coming across to consult the linesman, Fernández Borbalán drew his red card and sent Filipe Luis for an early bath. Gabi, for his part, was finally booked for protesting.
With Atlético down to ten men there was little danger that Barça could let the game slip now. Villa was subbed off to ungrateful Camp Nou whistles, then in the 89th minute the chance came to win the game for Barça when Pedro went down between Miranda and Juanfran, and Fernández Borbalán pointed to the spot. Messi stepped up to take the kick but in a similar way to his Champions League penalty against Chelsea sixteen months ago the Argentinian fired the ball against the crossbar.
Following the recent big home wins against Santos and Levante it must be said that tonight’s game was a big disappointment. The long-awaited partnership of Neymar and Messi failed to connect which combined with below-par performances from Alexis, Xavi and Fabregas meant we failed to force one difficult save from Courtois. However, it is still great to win the first title of the Tata era, success always helps to bring more success and this should help to lift the pressure a bit on our new coach. It should be remembered, however, that this title is due to last season’s team winning La Liga, so as Martino himself acknowledged in yesterday’s press conference, this title is more to do with the work of Tito Vilanova and Jordi Roura, and we should remember them as we celebrate.
Barça: Valdés 8; Alves 6.5, Piqué 7, Mascherano 6.5, Alba 6; Xavi 6, Busquets 6.5, Fabregas 6 (Iniesta m73, 6.5); Alexis 5.5 (Pedro m65, 6), Messi 6, Neymar 6.
Atlético: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis; Mario Suarez; Diego Costa, Koke (Baptistao m89), Gabi, Arda Turan (Adrian m72); Villa (Christian Rodriguez m84).
Yellow cards: m26 Koke, m28 Fabregas, m30 Busquets, m54 Piqué,m81 Gabi, m85 Diego Costa,
Red cards: m80 Filipe Luis, m91 Arda Turan (from the bench).