After a night that saw nearly every good chance fall to his opponents, Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino couldn’t muster excuses. It was clear his team, now outside UEFA Champions League’s semifinals for the first time in seven years, were second best, and while four previous meetings this season against Atlético Madrid hint the two teams are practically equals, one night at the Vicente Calderón put distance between two of Spain’s title contenders. Atlético moves on; Barcelona moves out.
“Results happen for a reason,” Martino offered after his team’s 1-0 loss. “When Atlético were the better side, they scored their goal. We also had opportunities and just one goal from us would have changed the course of the game.”
Perhaps Xavi Hernández’s second half through ball for Neymar was his team’s best chance. Maybe it was the volley Lionel Messi put over the bar that followed. Compared to Atlético, however, the chances were few and far between, with an early goal from Koke the highlight of a game that saw Adrían Lopez, David Villa, Diego, Gabi and Cristian Rodríguez test Pinto. The game may have ended 1-0, but Atlético could have made it much worse.
“At certain points, we couldn’t do the things [we wanted] because of how our opponents played, Martino explained, alluding to an Atlético approach that saw high pressure wane into numbers behind the ball. “Atlético kept a lot of players near their penalty area – they did that very well and that made it hard for us to find any space.”
Barcelona finished the night with 71 percent possession, a function of the teams’ styles as well as Atlético’s early goal. But the Blaugrana were outshot 15-12, with the home side putting five shots on target to Barça’s three. Among those chances not on target: Three first half shots that hit the Barcelona woodwork.
It was the most lopsided game of the teams’ five-match seasons series. With the clubs set to meet on the last day of the Spanish season, Barcelona will have a chance at redemption, though after Wednesday’s result, Martino’s team clearly needs to adjust.
“We have to keep fighting in the two competitions that remain for us now: the league and the Copa del Rey.” For the first time since 2007, Champions League is not on the last in mid-April.