Just as Argentina relied on Lionel Messi to send them to the World Cup last week, Barcelona were just waiting for their magician to unlock Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
The Blaugrana dominated their encounter at the Wanda Metropolitano, having 69 per cent possession and recording 15 shots to Atleti’s five, but left with a 1-1 draw.
Luis Suarez’s equaliser ensured Barcelona didn’t leave empty-handed following Saul Niguez’s fine strike in the first half.
Messi had an opportunity to secure all three points right at the death but his free-kick was straight at Jan Oblak.
After the match, which saw Barça drop points in La Liga for the first time this season, Ernesto Valverde said Messi was suffering from “wear and tear” after his exploits for Argentina.
"It's true that Leo had some wear and tear because of the tension of the matches he has had to play, but we know that he always responds in any situation,” Barcelona’s boss said, per ESPN.
"He gave us a lot of effort and it was clear that, when he got the ball, something good could happen for us.''
It could have gone a whole lot worse for Barcelona, although Saturday saw Real Madrid close the gap between the sides to five points.
And Valverde will be acutely aware that his side have already faced arguably the best defence in Spain once now; Zinedine Zidane will take his side to Atleti’s new stadium next month.
Tactical analysis from Atletico Madrid 1-1 Barça
Yet it’s worth exploring just why Barcelona were unable to make Diego Simeone’s side crack.
YouTuber ‘TheNextManager’ has done just that with a fine tactical analysis of Saturday’s match.
The video shows just how well disciplined Simeone’s side is. Each player knew the position they should take up when Barça were in possession of the ball, which prevented Barcelona from switching the ball to the other flank.
Atletico also restricted the space in their defence, meaning the gaps that Barcelona look to exploit simply weren’t there.
Valverde tried to counter this by creating three-on-three situations on the flanks his plan didn’t result in any great opportunities.
Los Rojiblancos also did a good job of making full use of the space Ivan Rakitic left behind when he pushed forward.
Indeed, Atletico’s goal came when the Croatian failed to track Saul’s run.
It was only when Barcelona put on Gerard Deulofeu and Sergio Roberto and switched to a 4-3-2-1 formation that they began to play better.
Suarez’s goal in the 82nd minute came from Roberto’s cross but Barcelona were unable to find a winner.
Check out the complete analysis below.
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