Despite being butchered over two legs, Barcelona gave Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid a lesson on when keeping it real goes wrong.
1-nil was hardly an insurmountable lead, especially for such warriors as Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Nevermind the fact that it was a Copa del Rey tie against an in-form Barcelona, with Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez fusing into a dragon before our eyes. Nevermind the fact that Diego Godin and Koke were out due to suspension and injury. This is ATLETI! And this is the VICENTE CALDERON, where opponents come in feeling spry and leave feeling like they just went 15 Rounds, quite literally.
When Fernando Torres channeled his younger self a mere thirty seconds into the affair, drawing Atleti level on aggregate, the poetry felt in-motion. As El Niño placed a kiss upon the hallowed Calderon turf in celebration, the romantic in all of us gushed for the soldiers of Madrid as they launched their eventual comeback. This was simply how it was supposed to start. Although like with so many of Atleti’s intoxicating offensive moments, Torres’s strike also helped us forget about who and what this team really is, and that’s the footballing extension of a crazed madman.
If the first-leg of this tie was Korea, the second was Vietnam. Eight yellow cards and two reds punctuated the gruesome night in Madrid, where Barca emerged as victors by a 3-2 scoreline (4-2 on aggregate). Of course, it’s not just the cards, because there could’ve and should’ve been loads more had the referees not taken intermittent portions of the match off. This cup tie showcased the brutal nature of Simeone’s team and what can happen when it isn’t harnessed correctly. Last week, it resulted in the unintentional hero-making of Neymar at the Camp Nou, as the Brazilian turned his bloody sock into a badge of honor. This week, it ended with a disgraceful home loss.
The lowlight of the night turned out to be a bizarre act that deserved multiple red cards, yet barely received one yellow. In the opening minutes of the second half, a physical battle between opposing players at the touchline ended with one of Arda Turan’s shoes coming off. The tough Turk, seemingly feeling as if he’d been fouled on the play, proceeded to hurl the free boot over the head of the nearby linesman. Though the wayward cleat missed the official and everyone close, Turan’s lash-out was a perfect encapsulation of Atleti’s night. Just fifteen minutes earlier, on the way into the dressing room for the halftime interval, Atleti’s captain Gabi was given a red card for a reported tunnel tussle with some Barca players. There’s been little word on the altercation, but Simeone’s side has obviously been given little leeway on their actions lately. And despite the officials’ obliviousness to Turan’s shoe-throw in-game, Atleti can certainly expect a harsher ruling later this week.
But somehow, amidst all of the carnage, Barca still managed to bloom. Their first goal was a personified illustration of designed domination, as if the €100 million spent to construct their South American kaleidoscopic trio was paying off in real-time. The classic counterattack started with a Messi nutmeg, followed by a trademark Suarez control-and-deploy-all-in-
And how about Jordi Alba? Very rarely are we, the television audience, privy to seeing a player sprint in-picture from one end of the pitch to the other in a matter of seconds. That’s what happened with Alba. Upon being clattered in Barca’s own penalty box on the in-or-perhaps-out-stretched arm via an Antoine Griezmann goalward shot, Alba perfectly telegraphed a Barca counter the entire length of the Calderon field, eventually receiving a pass from a paralleled Messi at the byline, which he cuts back into the path of a lonesome Neymar who slots away Barca’s third. Had he played for Atleti, Simeone would’ve swarmed him with a barrage of hugs and kisses as if he were his own son.
The pugnacious nature of these recent Barca-Atleti encounters is quite vexing, if only because the rivalry is so traditionally moderate. Madrid derbies carry with them innate quarrels stemming from locale, class, and various other cultural devices. Likewise, El Clasico carries a standard of footballing excellence that regularly overshadows decapitated pig heads and executive eye gouges. Barca and Atleti are currently such antithetical soccer entities, both of whom have a common hatred for those dickheads in the blanco shirts, that it feels awkward to have the two at each other’s throats. But this is the world we’re living in: Diego’s world, where anyone can get it. And there aren’t enough yellow cards in the world to change that.