[dropcap]L[/dropcap]a Liga title hopefuls Barcelona and Atlético Madrid went head-to-head at Camp Nou on Sunday night, with the hosts overcoming the reigning champions 3-1.
The Blaugrana’s star attacking trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez all got on the scoresheet, with the result giving manager Luis Enrique some welcome respite after recent accusations of internal discontent.
Visiting boss Diego Simeone will not be pleased with his team’s efforts, especially in the first half, with the title race now firmly in the balance.
Here are five key talking points that became apparent in the clash.
Atlético’s usual high pressing non-evident in first-half
Against technically superior opposition, Simeone’s Atleti side displayed a collective work ethic and pressed the ball high up the pitch in games against Europe’s best last season and got their just rewards as a result.
However, these high-octane tactics were not apparent in the first 45 at Camp Nou, where the capital city outfit sat back and invited pressure onto themselves without their usual vigour in closing the opposition down.
Barcelona’s ball-players found themselves in too much space as a result, with Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić given way too much time to orchestrate the home side’s attacks.
Although Atlético looked more like their imposing selves after the half-time interval, they were already 2-0 down and the damage had been done.
Messi seemingly relishing new role as provider
With the summer acquisition of Suárez, key player Lionel Messi has been moved from his false nine role to accommodate a berth on the right of Barcelona’s three-pronged attack once more.
From Sunday’s showing, the Argentine seemingly has embraced his new role in the side and looked eager to create chances for others when in the past he perhaps would have only had the opposition goal in mind.
Taking Messi away from being the furthest man forward and focal point for the side’s attack gives the Catalan side a different dynamic in the final third, especially with Neymar coming into form and the quality of Suárez leading the line.
Getting the best out of Messi will remain a priority if Barcelona are to win silverware this term, but by removing him from a central role he seemingly can get the best out of others.
João Miranda’s absence weakens the visitors
The central defensive pairing of Diego Godín and João Miranda was the cornerstone of Atlético’s success last season, with the duo proving themselves as one of European football’s toughest centre-half duos.
With the Brazilian returning to the fray after a hamstring ailment and only fit enough for the bench, 19-year-old José María Giménez continued in the heart of the visiting defence – with Los Colchoneros not as compact as a result.
The teenage Uruguayan is seemingly a player in Simeone’s mould; aggressive, physical and determined. However, without Miranda Atlético were not as watertight.
Giménez looks to have the attributes to be a feature for Atlético in the future, but for the time being getting the first-choice central defensive pairing back playing together will be key to the Estadio Vicente Calderón side’s hopes of retaining their title.
Dani Alves would be hard to replace
Questions over the future of long-serving Barcelona right-back Dani Alves have emerged recently, with the Brazilian out of contract at the end of the campaign and yet to pen a new deal.
Although the South American may not be the same player that starred in Pep Guardiola’s massively-successful Barcelona team, the former Sevilla man still represents an important part of the side’s attacking game.
His link-up play with Messi down the right continues to be a source of joy in the Camp Nou side’s attempts to break down opposition and it is clear that Alves is a player that still contributes significantly to Barcelona.
With other right-back options in Enrique’s squad not at the same level and the transfer ban in place, losing Alves would represent a significant blow for the Blaugrana, with the Brazilian tough to replace.
Despite Mandžukić’s qualities, Diego Costa being sorely missed
Diego Costa has proven himself as one of the most rounded strikers in world football over the last 18 months and despite the summer signing of Mario Mandžukić, Atlético are sorely missing the now-Chelsea centre forward.
The Croatian has a proven goalscoring record and replicates the physical side of what Costa provided Atleti last term, but lacks the prowess on the ball or clever off-the-ball movement that the Spain international offered.
As a result Atlético seemingly do not have the same penetration in the final third and have had to adapt their attacking play accordingly in Costa’s absence.
Although Mandžukić will get goals when Atlético are in the ascendancy, his presence compared to Costa’s mean that Simeone’s men are nowhere near the same threat on the counter attack as they were last season.
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