Atletico Madrid pulled off an improbable comeback, overturning a 2-1 first leg deficit to snatch a 3-2 aggregate victory over Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.
The defending champions were widely considered the favorites to win the title, but Atletico shocked the world and knocked them out with a 2-0 victory at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Barcelona were on top of the world. A dominant force in La Liga and the Champions League, they looked en route to a historic treble winning season and there seemed to be no team capable of containing their goal-thirsty attacking trio.
It all changed with the El Clasico though, as Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1 to end their 39 game unbeaten run. Right after that game, Barca managed to nick the first leg of their Champions League clash against Atletico after the latter were reduced to ten men in the first half. Suarez scored a brace to cancel out Fernando Torres’ opener.
It has been all downhill since then. Barca lost 1-0 to minnows Real Sociedad over the weekend and last night they were knocked out of the Champions League by a resilient, aggressive and fearless Atletico side who refused to give an inch to messrs. Messi, Suarez and Neymar.
Two goals from Atletico’s French sensation Antoine Griezmann in either half proved to be Barcelona’s undoing in a high octane clash filled with drama and terrible officiating. The game had everything – Luis Suarez’ predatory lurking and Diego Godin’s gritty determination, Diego Simeone’s commendable organizational skills and Luis Enrique’s bewildered hunt for a way to keep Barca in it.
At the end, Barcelona said goodbye to Europe and the curse of the defending champions inevitable exit continued.
Jan Oblak – 8/10
An imperious performance by the Slovenian keeper who kept Barca at bay with some superb saves, punching and claiming the ball with confidence.
Juanfran – 8/10
He rarely ventured forward and had Neymar in his pocket throughout the match, frustrating the Brazilian to such an extent that he even got himself booked for being overly aggressive.
L. Hernandez – 8/10
He was good in the air, preventing Barcelona’s long balls from posing a threat to Oblak’s goal. He also won a couple of important free-kicks for Atletico.
Filipe Luis – 9/10
The Brazilian was indefatigable, was everywhere on the pitch and put Barca players under pressure in both defence and attack. One of the best full-back performances in the Champions League so far.
Diego Godin – 8/10
The Uruguayan was rock solid in defence, and even soldiered on after receiving a nasty wound just above the eye from compatriot Luis Suarez.
Y. Carrasco – 7/10
He was a danger going forward for Atletico and also performed his defensive duties well.
Gabi – 7.5/10
Was instrumental in maintaining the tight structure of Atletico’s 4-4-2 formation and chipped in with some valuable defensive contributions.
A. Fernandez – 7/10
He kept Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic in check throughout and did not relinquish control of the midfield easily.
Saul – 8/10
Provided the assist for Griezmann’s opening goal and remained an attacking threat for Atletico throughout the game.
Koke – 7/10
Performed his defensive duties well and was dangerous on the break.
A. Griezmann – 9/10
One of the defining games of the Frenchman’s fledgling career. He maximized opportunities presented to him to their full potential and netted the only two goals of the game.
Ter-Stegen – 6/10
The German keeper failed to deal with Griezmann’s first half header and didn’t look very convincing for Barca at the back.
Alves – 6/10
He couldn’t make much of an impact on the right wing in terms of attack, but did track-back enough to bolster the Barca defence when they needed it.
Pique – 7/10
Showed his leadership skills whenever the Barca players were arguing with the referee, which happened more than they would’ve liked.
Mascherano – 7/10
The Argentine was the best defender for Barca and even looked dangerous in attack, having a couple of good shots blocked.
Alba – 5/10
A very bad day for Jordi Alba, who seemed more focused on getting into the opposition penalty area than guarding his own.
Rakitic – 7/10
Was a useful presence for Barcelona in the midfield, but didn’t have much of an impact on the game.
Busquets – 6/10
The engine room of Barcelona was contained superbly by Atletico, as he barely got a whiff of the ball when in space.
Iniesta – 5/10
The veteran midfielder was the focal point of many of Barcelona’s attacks, but was lucky to remain on the pitch after his blatant handball led to the second goal for Atletico
Messi – 5/10
The Argentine couldn’t create space for himself and was a contained force throughout the game.
Suarez – 7/10
Luis Suarez was the most potent attacking threat for Barca, coming close on a few occasions.
Neymar – 5/10
Was ineffective for Barcelona throughout, and let his aggression get the best of him in the latter stages, earning a yellow card for kicking out at Juanfran.
Diego Simeone – 10/10
The Atletico manager finally beat Luis Enrique’s Barcelona with the kind of team effort and discipline that should be a benchmark for aspiring managers. Atletico’s tight formation and positioning was a testament for the hours of training and discipline instilled by their Argentine boss, and it eventually bore fruit for them.
Luis Enrique – 6/10
The Spaniard looked like a man who ran out of ideas, as he gesticulated and frowned on the sidelines. Enrique should have thought about his team selection for the game, with key players being tired. His side did not look prepared for Atletico’s methodical and ultimately unbreakable defence, and he was perhaps banking on one of his stars to produce a moment of magic. It came back to haunt him in the end.