Used to be when Barcelona traveled south to Madrid to face the La Liga title challengers, we were talking about a Clasico, another mammoth Barca-Real Madrid meeting. This time around it was Atletico Madrid doing the challenging, as the pair of La Liga co-leaders met in Spain.
Only, the ongoing La Liga chase was reduced somewhat to subplot as we all wondered what role Leo Messi, the brightest light among a bunch of them here, would play in this one.
Messi, only recently having rejoined the team from injury, did not start; there he was on the bench, all bundled up in a big overcoat alongside his talented Brazilian teammate Neymar. He was watching the beginning of an eventual 0-0 draw, although one that had style aplenty from two very good clubs.
Atletico attacker Diego Costa, a real La Liga powerhouse this year, had come closest for Diego Simone’s club before halftime in a match of tremendous ebb and flow. Messi did, indeed, enter at halftime, replacing Barca midfielder playmaker Andres Iniesta.
Neymar would later replace Alexis Sanchez, but still no breakthrough for the Blaugrana at the Vicente Calderón Stadium.
Messi, appearing to move with some caution, did wiggle free here and there. But his best chances were an off-balance effort didn’t give goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois any real trouble and a free kick that bounced harmlessly off a wall. It was not exactly the display he wanted just two days before FIFA’s Ballon d’Or is announced (which already appeared to be going elsewhere).