Atletico Madrid and Barcelona shared the spoils in a tightly contested 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon in the Spanish Super Cup first leg.
But the main talking point of the game highlighted the need for Fabregas and Neymar. The first half passed with Barcelona not even having one shot on target at all. Barcelona opted for the ever prominent trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta, while Pedro and Sanchez flanked Messi in the false number nine position.
The flaw in this, however, was the lack of intensity and tempo in Barcelona's game. Atletico Madrid set up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Arda Turan and Diego Costa operating on the left and right, while Gabi and Koke played slightly further forward than the powerful Mario Suarez.
Atletico completely nullified the threat of Messi and co. with the their rigid organisation defensively and insatiable work-rate, exemplified by widemen Costa and Turan limiting any space for wide players Pedro and Sanchez to exploit along with full backs Alves and Alba.
The work those two did on each flank by supporting their full backs Juanfran and Felipe nullified any penetrative threat in behind the defence, while the work of Suarez, Gabi and Koke in the middle of the park compacted the midfield, thus Barcelona had no space to operate in-between the lines of midfield and defence with everything being played in front of them; Atletico Madrid were very comfortable with that.
It wasn't just the defensive solidity that gave Atletico the edge in the first half however, as the incisive counter-attacking ability threat of Villa, Costa and Turan carried a far bigger threat than anything Barcelona had to offer.
The combination play and pace they played at was too much for a fragile Barcelona defence to cope with at times. The amount of openings created with quick, incisive inter-play could have meant Atletico carrying a bigger lead in at half-time. But it wasn't to be and Villa's perfectly executed volley was their only goal to show.
The introduction of Fabregas at half time brought with it Barcelona's first shot of the night and it looked as if it would have been wiser for Barcelona to start the former Arsenal man.
Despite the loss of arguably the best player in the world at the interval, Fabregas started picking up good areas and his fantastic form was evident at times. But in spite of that, Neymar stole the headlights. With Barcelona lacking any sort of penetration all night, Neymar was the beneficiary of some slack defending, pouncing with a well taken header. From that moment on Barcelona looked more purposeful and incisive, carving openings at will.
Barcelona go into the second leg at Camp Nou level on aggregate thanks to Neymar's equaliser and despite Barcelona playing on home soil and on a more expansive pitch which would make a case for a more patient and dominant Barcelona side; Fabregas and Neymar are deserving of a starting berth.
Meanwhile star player Lionel Messi has an injury worry, but Barcelona say the severity of the injury is currently unknown. Barcelona have reportedly said the player has "a left thigh contusion", according to Marca.
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