When Barcelona left the Vicente Calderon with a 1-1 result last week, it looked like a decent result against awn inspired team, one that saw an early goal from David Villa pulled back by Neymar’s second half equalizer. At home today at the Nou Camp, Barça seemed likely to have a more comfortable Spanish Super Cup second leg. After all, teams tend to play better at home.
But Wednesday’s second leg was anything but comfortable, playing out more like the uncertain 50 minutes that spanned Villa and Neymar’s goals than the 30-minute awakening Barcelona experienced at the end of last week’s match. Despite dominating possession (74 percent), Barcelona could only generate one shot on goal, the specter of a potentially cup-winning Atlético counter hanging over them for the entire 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi had a chance to remove that possibility, given a chance from the spot late in the match. By that point, Atlético’s desperation was translating into aggression, with the 81st minute sending off of Filipe Luis leaving the Atleti at 10 by the time David Fernández pointed to the spot. Yet clattering his try off Thibaut Courtois’ post, Messi left last year’s Copa del Rey winners with life, keeping the score 0-0.
But Diego Simeone’s team never found the score they needed to overturn Barça’s away goals advantage. Despite putting three shots on goal and forcing Victor Valdes into a number of spectacular plays, the lasting impressions Atlético left on the match were their 24 committed fouls (Barcelona: nine), as if the Atleti had taken a page from the playbook Real Madrid has discarded two seasons ago. While the philosophy didn’t lead to silverware, it did provide a formula for at least competing with Barcelona, the 0-0 draw leaving the teams even after 180 minutes.
The approach left Barcelona’s players appealing to Fernández at held time, Messi and Gerard Piqué gathering around the match official to plead their case for a more open second half. But although Simeone’s team would see six cards (including two reds) before the final whistle, they were never made to pay for their tactics. In terms of the scoresheet, Messi’s missed penalty absolved Atlético of all wrong doing.
After full time, though, it was Xavi Hernández lifting another trophy, the scoreless stalemate leaving Neymar’s goal in Madrid the deciding tally. But held at a standstill by Atlético over 180 minutes, the result should engender more doubts than plaudits. After throttling Levante 7-0 to open their season, Barcelona’s been held to two goals in 270 minutes by teams (Atlético and, the weekend, Málaga) who were more organized than good. Granted, a great game from Willy Caballero was one of the main reasons Barcelona weren’t more successful in Andalusia, but the bottom line remains the same.
After four games, it’s unclear Gerardo Martino’s team won’t be susceptable to the same failings that undid Tito Vilanova’s. Last year, it was too easy to do as Celtic, Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain did in Champions League: Play conservatively, employ a deep and compact scheme that overly-focused on Lionel Messi, and beg Barcelona to beat them another way. In Spain, the talent gap’s so big that Barcelona still won 32 or 38 games. In Champions League, however, come the knockout round, every match seemed a struggle.
Neymar was supposed to solve that problem, and as he regains full fitness, the Brazilian wonderkid may yet provide an alternative. But today, his first start with the team, Barcelona didn’t look any different. So while they did ultimately win a trophy, Barcelona yet to show they’ve address minuscule but significant problems.