Antoine Griezmann continues to sparkle for Atleti, while Barcelona stay top in this weekend’s La Liga action.
Barcelona Derby No. 162
The 162nd edition of the Barcelona Derby concluded on Saturday with a 2-0 Barcelona victory at Power8 Stadium. Neymar and Lionel Messi were the goalscorers, as the Catalans kept their lead atop La Liga.
Okay, so this result was expected. (If anything, the end scoreline might even flatter the home side.) But it also served as a reminder for our everchanging perspective of this current Barcelona team: just when you expect efficiency, they give you beauty. We’ve come to expect from this side reels of individual brilliance, whether it’s Luis Suarez’s nutmegs or Messi’s windwalking runs. But we shouldn’t ever forget, particularly just days after we learn the Catalans will encounter Bayern Munich in next month’s Champions League semifinals, that this monster was built on the tenets of Guardiola and La Masia. Just because lead roles have been swapped and overemphasized, doesn’t mean that Barca have forgotten how to be a “team.” They’ll still shred you to confetti if you let them. Just ask the Parakeets.
Though the result seemed foregone at times, nerves admittedly started to pulsate for the league-leaders in the 53rd when, at 2-0, Jordi Alba received two yellow cards in quick succession, albeit for a relatively average dose of dissent towards the zero-tolerant Spanish official Mateu Lahoz. The scare was quite shortlived, however, as Barca continually beat down the doors of the Blanquiazules with ten-men. By the time Espanyol defender Hector Moreno too felt the vengeful sting of Lahoz’s red card in stoppage time, the match was well and truly done. Lahoz ended up apologizing to the home side after the match for an uncalled offside on the build-up to Messi’s goal, because, apparently, that’s something referees are doing now. But cautions-or-no-cautions, the end result of the derby felt reasonable enough.
This particular derby carried extra meaning too, as, in addition to marking Xavi Hernandez’s 500th La Liga appearance, the match fell on the one-year anniversary of Tito Vilanova’s death. The former Barca coach was remembered by a moment of silence prior to kickoff. For this reason, a Blaugrana win felt as appropriate and inspired as ever. Rest in peace, Tito.
Sir Antoine of Macon
Once again, an Atletico Madrid match quickly morphed into The Antoine Griezmann Show on Saturday as the Frenchman’s brace secured all three points for the Colchoneros in a 3-0 win over Elche. Raul Garcia scored the other.
The charm of Griezmann’s performance against Elche lied in its industrious nature. His strikes weren’t wondergoals by any stretch, neither were they very aesthetically pleasing. They were unrelenting and gritty — they were Atleti-esque goals; check that, masterpieces. You won’t find them on a Vine compilation, but you should in a coaching staff’s dossier.
Griezmann’s first started, as so many of Atleti’s goals do, from the flank. A curled Juanfran cross into the penalty area was volleyed goalward by Koke, and brilliantly deflected away by Elche keeper Przemyslaw Tyton. However, Tyton’s save bounced straight to an on-rushing Griezmann, who stretched his bleach-blond hairtips just far enough to head the ball home. It was a textbook “clean up” goal. The Frenchman gambled on a deflection before any of his opponents could even process what was happening. Watch this play, and you’ll notice that Tiago Mendes is to Griezmann’s left, also preparing for a rebound. This is the Simeone Effect: the instinctual tendencies he instills in his players to do the dirty things well. Griezmann’s second, while not scored from a deflection, was also a scrappy, unspectacular effort born from hard work above all.
These factors are not only why Griezmann is an illustrious talent, but also why his potential is seemingly unlimited. His time at the Vicente Calderon, above maybe anything else, has taught him how to stand out regardless of any given match’s style. He can shine both when the game calls for nastiness and when it gets it calls for creativity. He currently sits on 22 league goals, a record bettered by only Messi and Ronaldo. If he continues to play in such an emphatic manner, which he likely will, you can expect a crazed bidding war for his services over this summer, and every following summer until he’s punched his ticket to a future Ballon d’Or ceremony. He’s going to be that good. Hell, he’s already that good.
Chicharito Shines in Vigo
Real Madrid stayed within two points of league-leaders Barcelona with a 4-2 victory over Celta Vigo on Sunday.
This match was emblazoned with severe bogey potential from the word “go.” A decimated Real Madrid visiting a chest-puffed Celta Vigo in a late April brawl with major title implications on the line for Los Blancos? It sounded like a tough proposition for the visitors, and it was.
It took merely nine minutes for the home side to show their teeth when Liga all-star Nolito scored after skinning every Madrid defender short of Fernando Hierro and shooting past a flat-footed Iker Casillas. Los Merengues would pull level through Toni Kroos seven minutes later, and then go-ahead through Javier Hernandez in the 24th.
The hosts then began pressing feverishly, eventually equalizing via Santi Mina in the 28th minute. From that moment on, Celta Vigo enforced their will on Madrid, controlling most of the attacking play for the duration of the match. But this is Real Madrid. Even with a veritable B side deployed, the potential for danger is always there.
Just before the stroke of halftime, a James Rodriguez strike put Madrid back ahead. By the 69th minute, despite employing a mostly reactionary gameplan, Los Blancos had sealed the win through another Hernandez goal.
Hernandez, the once beleaguered benchwarming striker, has now put together back-to-back excellent showings (first was his performance midweek against Atletico Madrid), and by far his best in a Madrid shirt. His deft positioning, firm hold-up-play, and clinical finishing has been a godsend for Carlo Ancelotti’s depleted side amidst a flooded fixture list. It’s unsure how long the Manchester United loanee will have to deputize for the injured Karim Benzema, but any debates over Madrid’s acquisition of the Mexican have well and truly been settled this week. He could spend the rest of his loan spell shining Florentino Perez’s Magnannis and still be worth it.