At the 46:50 mark Pinto had the save of the half off a Villa strike that would have certainly opened the scoring. The Brazilian struck the ball on the run lifting it over any potential defensive slide and curling past Courtois diving hands. The rough play yielded three yellow cards for Atletico by half-time. These four ended up being played at a frantic pace and produced scoring moments on both sides. The injuries were to key players.. They indeed created chances and paid the price for their virtuosity suffering a succession of Madrid fouls.
The second half was even more intense than the first with another four yellow cards. That is until the 71st minute when an Iniesta pass, a copy of the one he received from Messi in the first half, reached Neymar in stride. But the yellow cards were the larger story as were the early injuries. If anyone doubted the tackling tactic included strong-legged techniques, Madrid’s coach, Diego Simeone, was clearly seen indicating by hand gestures and words that he wanted his players to kick out at their opponents hard, “pegale fuerte” (hit him hard) could be clearly read as he mouthed it.
The hosts took over from there and the last 25minutes, added time included, saw attack after wave of attacks from Barca, but to no avail. Otherwise the coaches went with their top line-ups and seemed to have thought through what winning this specific match-up would entail.
Gerard Pique fell poorly on his thigh and back off a heading attempt and left the game at the 12th minute and Costa came up lame with what looked like a thigh injury of his own around the 28th minute and also left the match.
On the Barca side the offensive triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Neymar supported by Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets, was given full license to roam and strike.
Today, hosts Barcelona tied with visiting Atletico Madrid in Champions League play at the Camp Nou. A golazo!
But not before another Messi gem of a play that set Iniesta in the box with a one-on-one against Atletico’s Belgian goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, only to have Uruguayan defender Diego Godin slide in at the last second to block the goal-bound strike.
Early in the first half Atletico showed what its strategy would be, pressing up high and tough tackling everywhere else. The match reached a crescendo when Diego blasted a long range shot at the 56th minute that just grazed a defender before going into the upper right corner of Pinto’s goal, and past his grazing fingertips, for the opening score of the match.
As the half neared the ref added four minutes. Barcelona was playing without the injured goal keeper Victor Valdes and Atletico’s Diego Costa had been a question mark until game day. But the whistle blew on a nil-nil tie at the half.
Barca pushed it into another gear at that time only to find Atletico was right with them. The second leg, at the Vicente Calderon, will be the decider and Atletico are now in the driver’s seat.
The tactics, though, also worked for most of the half and though possession was in Barca’s favor 65% to 35% it was Madrid who had the early chances, one by David Villa a clear chance