Coming into Saturday's head-to-head match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Barca had won five games in a row against the Mattress Makers. Despite the best efforts of the Atletico squad, Barcelona won once more this weekend, earning a 2-1 advantage to solidify their frontrunner status in the 2015/16 La Liga.
Not that anyone has had reason to doubt Barca's title hopes as of late. Ever since Neymar and Luis Suarez stepped up to steer the football club through Lionel Messi's lengthy and nerve-wracking injury period, FC Barcelona have been nearly untouchable. They haven't lost a game in any competition since the beginning of October and have only had to abide a few draws. The January 30th match against Atletico Madrid was interesting because, if one team was going to be able to knock Barcelona off balance, the Mattress Makers were going to be that team.
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A Comeback Victory
Indeed, Atletico Madrid came to play on Saturday. Barca had the home-field advantage, but Atletico took the pitch with strong resolve and ended up cracking the Barcelona defense just 10 minutes into the match. The goal, scored by Koke off an assist from Saul, put Barca in a rare position having to play catch up.
For the next 20 minutes, Barcelona meandered around the pitch without their normal level of polish, precision, or purpose. Augusto Fernandez nearly netted a second goal for Madrid at the 20-minute mark, and Lionel Messi missed a free kick at the 27-minute mark. There was a notable restlessness in the stands at Camp Nou, as fans wondered if they would finally have to watch their soccer club concede a loss to Atletico Madrid.
Luckily for supporters in the Barcelona home jersey 2015/16, those fears were still short-lived. At the 30-minute mark, Neymar brought the ball into the Atletico box and passed it to Jordi Alba, who fired back to Lionel Messi for the shot and the goal. It was a great point, and it seemed to restore much of the mojo that the home side had been missing for the majority of the first half hour.
By the time halftime had rolled around, the tables had shifted entirely. At the 38-minute mark, Luis Suarez scored to give Barcelona a 2-1 advantage in the game, and at 43 minutes, Atletico's Filipe Luis picked up a red card for a grisly challenge on Messi. Just like that, the Mattress Makers headed to the locker rooms down both one goal and one man.
A Tough Second Half
If the match had ended after the first half, not much would have been different. Barcelona would have managed a come-from-behind victory to beat Atletico 2-1, and Madrid would have squandered a promising start with some confused defending and a (deserved) red card.
The good news for Atletico Madrid in the second half was that, despite their one-man disadvantage, they didn't concede any more goals. In fact, the Mattress Makers started the second half much like they started the first: as the hungrier, more momentum-fueled side. Carrasco nearly scored for Atletico at the 57-minute mark, and Antoine Griezmann and Saul both had strong offensive moments as well.
But Atletico Madrid's chances of victory more or less went out the window at the 65-minute mark. Luis Suarez was charging up the pitch when a challenge from Diego Godin sent him tumbling to the ground. Suarez undoubtedly exaggerated the effect of the hit-as he did on numerous occasions in this game-but it made no difference: Godin had picked up a yellow card in the first half, and with another yellow here, he was sent off.
Down two men, Atletico moved into full-on defense mode. Rather remarkably, they succeeded in preventing Barcelona from scoring again-though Messi got close two or three times in the final 10 minutes of the match. Ultimately, though, the writing was on the wall for a Barcelona victory.
The win put Barcelona three points ahead of Atletico Madrid in the league standings, 51 points to 48. Real Madrid trail one point behind Atletico, but had a tremendous weekend of their own, beating Espanyol 6-0 at home. Bottom line, all three of these football teams are still title contenders.
Root for Barca with a new Barcelona home jersey 2015/16 from Soccer Box!