LaLiga: Atletico Madrid's draw with Barcelona was an entertaining advert of the Spanish league

The final scoreline of 1-1 at the Atletico versus Barcelona match may shake up the Premier League football fan’s take on LaLiga.

The game on show at the packed 67,000 cauldron-like stadium of the Wanda Metropolitano was an entertaining advert of the LaLiga. Pomp, panache, sleight of strife, flight of feet, a cheek clamp on the cheek — it had it all.

Athletico Madrid's Diego Costa, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Barcelona. AP Photo

Athletico Madrid's Diego Costa, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring against Barcelona. AP Photo

With the bullet between their teeth

Diego Costa (77th minute headed goal) and Ousmane Dembele (90th minute paddled finish in the bottom corner) caught the column inches and guided the general narrative with a-goal-apiece for their respective clubs. But Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona was more like watching multiple mini-operas on the football pitch, each with their definite soundtrack. The most captivating of which was the Luis Suarez vs Lucas Hernandez show — which, of course, had to have a Mahler soundtrack to it.

In the immortal words of Captain Holt’s (from the TV show Brooklyn 99), “Mahler was one in-your-face bad boy,” “the original punk-rocker.” It’d be fitting then that it would be the score to a dialogue between two players with punk-rocker personalities, each dribble a verse, each feint a punctuation, and each snide tackle a full-stop.

It started on level terms, but towards the end of the contest, in the 68th minute, Suarez, while trying to hurry down the goalkeeper, tripped on his left ankle and unironically gesticulated towards the referee to book the Wanda Metropolitano pitch.

Just like the first 30 minutes of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the newer, badder-boy had both outgunned and outsang the legend.

The ragged running

The game was broken with fouls and infringements. “They didn’t let us play our game; we were the only team looking to play football,” said the disgruntled Barcelona holding-man Sergio Busquets, before adding, “Well, this is Atletico, that’s what you expect here.” Busquets, though clearly biased, did afford a nod towards Atletico Madrid’s industry. You’d have to be blindly blinkered if you don’t.

The pressure on the ball, like movies that start from the climax (looking at you Jason Statham in Crank High Voltage), was hard and early. The tone for the rest of the match was set when Samuel Umtiti was hurried to misplace the ball by Atletico’s gizmo Griezmann, in the first minute.

For the first 20 minutes, Barcelona could do very little than to push the ball wide. To give you an idea, 81 percent of the passes exchanged by Barcelona in this period was either between Sergi Roberto and Semedo on the right, or Arthur and Jordi Alba on the left.

Thomas Lemar — a right winger, right-back, attacking midfielder, left winger rolled into one — had one of the best non-scoring matches of his career. When the Frenchman was subbed off around the 64th minute, he had ran more miles than anyone at the end of the 90th. It’s little wonder why Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool were prepared to break their transfer record last year for the former Monaco dynamo. His performance coupled with Atletico’s fastidiously-frantic running made otherwise unworked commentators tire their voices out. Anticipating this Sky Sports selected two commentators, one expert (Graham Hunter)  and one pitch side reporter (Bruno) for this match. It helped.

The missing men

Barcelona missed two men very tellingly in this match. The first of them is Dani Alves.

Nelson Semedo though defensively competent is limited going forward. And on more than one occasion, Lionel Messi having received the ball on the counter, instinctively sprayed it in a spot where he has been programmed to expect Dani Alves to be charging on and putting a measured cross in from the right to Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Neymar, Messi to score from. That is not the case with Semedo. A crucial aspect of Barcelona’s attacking play was flopping like a turkey. It was Thanksgiving at the Filipe Luis, Stefan Savic and Koke residence all over again.

Messi was conspicuous by his presence. Just like when he’s playing for Argentina, he was looking for Xavi. Messi, for the majority of the match, had to take on the role of both screenwriter and actor. Arthur, as capable as he is, didn’t quite deliver the eye of the needle direction that allowed Messi to ghost around the channels unattended. Messi had to come deep and Suarez was sidetracked with his feud with Lucas — this left a space upfront for Barcelona but with no one to occupy.

Diego Costa and Dembele — the outsiders

How many matches has Diego Costa gone without scoring a LaLiga goal? The answer is on the back of his shirt (19). But, of course, he had to score against Barcelona. Injury-prone Rafinha Alcantara — probably one of the unluckiest players in Barcelona’s recent history — all 5’, 8” of him had to mark, running backwards, a 6 foot something Costa.

The reason Cholo Simeone plays Costa is not purely because of his goals, but his bad manners (on the pitch). He was integral in getting under skin of Gerard Pique, a usually calm Sergio Busquets and managed to get Umtiti riled up enough to talk himself into a yellow card.

The reason Dembele does not play is not because of his goals, but his bad manners (off the pitch). He’s been guilty of scoring the winner vs Valladolid, Sevilla, Vallecano and Sociedad and now an important equaliser against Atletico.

The goal was a moment of pure instinct. Receiving a lashed in ball, Messi did not pause to take the second controlling touch but prodded the ball along by the extremity of his boot, in full stretch and onto an onrushing presence of Demeble from the right wing (a presence which is as mentioned missed sorely).

If Barcelona are to win the title, they ought to consider how to integrate Dembele’s bad manners.

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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2018 17:50:42 IST

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