An Alexis Sanchez shot from an improbable angle gave Barcelona a 1-0 34th minute lead over visiting Atletico Madrid, putting Blaugranas 45 minutes of soccer away from its fifth La Liga title in six years.
But their opponents did not back down, as Diego Godin headed home a deadball just after halftime to tie the score and put Atletico Madrid back in the driver’s seat to its first La Liga title since 1996. They did not relinquish the lead.
Sanchez picked up the ball from well inside the 18 and just yards from from the touchline, and to the left of Atleti goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. He wasted no time lashing a hard shot into the upper corner above the keeper’s left arm to put Barca up 1-0.
Atleti had already used two subs, with danger men Diego Costa and Arda Turan leaving after injuries in the first 22 minutes.
Barca weathered a late first half Atleti storm to get itself to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead, but Godin’s 49th-minute header set the stage for a wild second half.
Lionel Messi seemed to have found the go-ahead goal in the 64th minute, but was ruled offsides after the ball popped to him off a scrum in the 18.
Filipe Luis picked up a yellow card for a sliding tackle on Messi just outside the 18, and a free kick came as the clock neared 70. After a solid minute of jostling and arguing over how far away the wall should be, Messi sent the ball directly into it.
Barca’s passing just wasn’t there the rest of the way. They were a fraction off almost all day, and Atletico parked the bus after the interval as if they were masters. The Camp Nou is no longer a house of reigning champions, as Barca is trophy-less.
Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.
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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.
Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:
“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”
That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”
[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]
There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?
Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?
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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.
Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.
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Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:
“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.
“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.
“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”
Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.
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The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.