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3 points to ponder: Why Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid

Barcelona claimed three points (1-2, watch goals and highlights here) in a thrilling game at Vicente Calderon! A free kick goal by Neymar (55) and a brilliant penalty box combination finished by the substitute Messi (77) completed a comeback for Blaugrana after Fernando Torres (51) gave the lead to the home team.

Atletico Madrid started without any of their new signings - Carrasco, Luciano Vietto and Jackson Martinez, while Enrique opted not to risk with Messi’s fitness and left him on the bench.

The away win came with a price however with Thomas Vermaelen leaving the pitch with yet another injury in the first half.

It was a tough matchup between two great teams, but what are the three key takeaways from the game at Vicente Calderon?

Messi is back!

Not that Lionel Messi was ever missing, but after the tough summer with Argentina and seemingly never-ending international break, Enrique opted to give him extra resting time and left him on the bench.

This paid off. The Argentinian entered the game in the 60th minute for Rakitic and immediately showed his class. Just after five minutes on the pitch he gave a superb pass to Suarez leaving the goal open but the Uruguayan didn’t score.

Six minutes later he did what he does best - a fast paced break between several players only for his shot to go past the post.
Messi wasn’t done. His desire to receive the ball, to interact with Neymar and Suarez and to drive forward were evident. He immediately opened the attack and we saw that in several quick combinations between him, Neymar and Suarez. He showed that he has put the difficulties with the national team and Bilbao’s disappointment behind and was once again there for Barcelona.

What a better way for Messi to finish the game off than with a decisive winner in the 77th minute? Neymar, Suarez and Messi once again did their thing and orchestrated a brilliant attack, starting from the left flank and ending with a one-two between Messi and Suarez, only for the Argentinian to put the ball past Jan Oblak.

Whether rivals like it or not, the Argentinean magician is back -- and never going away.

Thomas Vermaelen’s career is hanging on a thread, so is Barca’s defence

Luis Enrique had to start the game with Javier Mascherano and Vermaelen as centre backs and the young Sergi Roberto as right back. Dani Alves’ injury recovery and Pique’s suspension after his red card against Athletic Bilbao left Enrique with a limited choice, who picked the Belgian over Jeremy Mathieu and Marc Bartra.

Rightfully so.

Thomas Vermaelen started the season strong, even during the 4-0 loss against Bilbao, he was the best out of the back four. He continued to show his progress in the 0-1 away game at San Mames, while providing great reinforcement against Malaga.

His qualities were evident not only when it came down to defending.

Barcelona’s style of play requires defenders to be excellent in more than just defending. Retaining and taking the ball up the field is a must. Vermaelen proved to be more than comfortable with the ball in his feet, he recorded over 90% overall pass completion in the three games, while he was quick to intercept and recover lose balls. Let’s not forget that he also scored the only goal against Malaga to keep Barca’s perfect record this season.

Enrique’s defence is also low in height, with Pique being the only powerful player with the ability to contest high balls. Vermaelen proved to be great addition in that respect too, showing his strength in the air against Bilbao with more than 10 header clearances.

He started the Atletico game strong, too: Managed to clear some dangerous balls, directing the defence, keeping the back four in line and proving to be back in form after his injury-bound 2014/2015 season. Let’s be honest - he gave Barcelona’s supporters a hope and sense of security. They could rest assured, defence was once again stable.

Until he limped off the pitch in the 26th minute. Yet again Vermaelen faces a setback. It seems that he suffered another sprain, one we are still to learn the severity of.

As much as it hurts it is true - the Belgian’s career is hanging on a thread due to another injury, but so is Barca’s defence. Even in a game that was dominated by the Catalans it was obvious that after Vermaelen was substituted, some cracks in the back four started to show.

The only goal that Atletico managed to score, came after a misunderstanding between Mascherano and Jordi Alba, who didn’t communicate properly and mistimed an offside trap only to leave Fernando Torres one on one with Ter Stegen.

In the absence of Pique and Vermaelen it was up to Javier Mascherano to organize the back four. He is a player who gives his heart for Barcelona on the pitch. His position was graduetly changed from a defensive midfielder to a centre back over the past years, but unfortunately he can’t lead the defensive line. Barcelona needs a centre back that can take the game head on and lead - like Pique, like Puyol, like Vermaelen.

Dani Alves is still injured, Pique is still suspended, Marc Bartra still needs time to get his best game and Aleix Vidal is set to play his first game for Barcelona in January. All good reasons to make every Barcelona fan nervous.

After playing only 62 minutes last season, Vermaelen is sidelined yet again. Let’s hope he will recover sooner rather than later. Barcelona needs him.

Rafinha and Sergi Roberto justified Luis Enrique’s confidence

Both youngsters started the game - Rafinha replacing Messi on the right and Sergi Roberto proved to be a versatile choice after starting in yet another role, this time as right back.

The young Catalan proved to be a great back up player for Enrique, who is betting heavily on the La Masia graduate. In past games he was used as a back up in midfield, but after Dani Alves was unavailable due to injury, Enrique didn’t hesitate to feature him there too. 

Last night he played an excellent game. He was very stable in defence winning one on ones, while being very active and pushing the ball down the right flank constantly. His ability to play wherever he is needed, make him a great option for Barcelona - one that is greatly needed when the team is constantly tormented by injuries.

Luis Enrique’s decision to put in Messi for Rakitic instead of Rafinha showed that the young Brazilian is doing what is asked from him.  It was obvious that he felt better in the midfield after Messi had come in than up front, but he was never a winger.

Like his brother Thiago, Rafinha feels confident with the ball in his feet. Together with Busquets and Iniesta he excelled in controlling the ball and providing an interesting alternative in Barca’s passing game. He was way more active while playing in the midfield, than his time spent on the right wing.

Barcelona recorded 623 completed passes over the course of the game, holding 69% possession and winning the midfield battle with the help of both Rakitic and Rafinha. 

Xavi and Pedro will always be missed on Camp Nou, but both Rafinha and Sergi Roberto can help the team fill the void left after their departures.

By Stefan Satchkov, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter @StefanSatchkov -- Looking forward to reading your views in the comment section!


  1. The 1-2 at the Calderon against Atletico Madrid is, without a doubt, the most impressive team performance and result in the season so far.

    Luis Enrique's decision to leave Lionel Messi on the bench, while risky given the precedent against Real Sociedad last January, worked out for the best. Having the No.10 as a supersub unbalanced a game that Neymar and specially Luis Suarez should / would have killed much earlier had they taken their chances in front of goal.

    A superb win, way to go Barcelona!

  2. Good summary of the match. Hope injury of TV is not serious..

    1. Thomas Vermaelen's injury is less serious than anticipated -- will be out for three weeks, doctors predict

    2. He was on a row. Very unfortunate. I am afraid we may see our version of Jack Wilshire. Let's hope this is not the case, because just looking at the numbers you could see how Pique and TV could have been the next great CB duo. His interaction with Pique reminds me of what Puyol was doing, providing the clear and stable reinforcement, because Pique tends to go wild at times. I hope he will be back, although I have my serious doubts.


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