Barcelona’s season is falling apart right before our eyes as Barcelona knocked the holders out of the Champions League on Wednesday as Antoine Griezmann scored twice in a 2-0 win in front of a rocking crowd at the Vicente Calderon. This is the second time in three years that Diego Simeone’s side have knocked Barcelona out at the quarterfinal stage.
But as usual between these two sides, the result was not without controversy.
Heading into stoppage time and searching for the goal that would have forced an extra 30 minutes, Barca were incensed not to receive a penalty when Andres Iniesta’s shot struck the arm of Atletico captain Gabi just inside the box. It as a clear penalty but the referee instead awarded a free-kick just outside which Lionel Messi hit over.
Atlético had scored first in last week’s opening leg at the Camp Nou and again began brightly here, Gabi flashing a shot over and Yannick Carrasco and Griezmann both testing Marc-André ter Stegen in the first ten minutes.
The home side continued to enjoy the better of things without troubling the goalkeeper, but that all changed in the 36th minute. Saúl Ñíguez was the architect, delivering a sumptuous right-wing cross with the outside of his left foot, and Griezmann found space to superbly steer a header past Ter Stegen.
Barcelona tried to respond, Jan Oblak dealing smartly with a looping Neymar attempt, yet it was Atlético who threatened a second goal before the break. Carrasco led a swift counterattack and opted to ignore Saúl, Ter Stegen only gathering his low effort at the second time of asking.
Diego Simeone’s men continued to look the likelier scorers as the second half unfolded, Barcelona scrambling clear after Koke had slipped a low pullback past Ter Stegen. Atlético then came closer still to doubling their advantage as Saúl directed a header over the keeper; only the crossbar kept Barcelona in touch.
Luis Enrique’s team promptly enjoyed their first spell of sustained pressure but Atlético’s greater menace was perfectly illustrated when Griezmann galloped onto a long pass, forcing yet another Ter Stegen intervention.
The holders were finally roused, Luis Suárez thumping a shot straight at Oblak after turning past Diego Godín. Suárez drew another sharp stop from the Atleti custodian as the match moved into its final ten minutes, yet gaps were opening up in the Barcelona rearguard.
From one such counterattack, Filipe Luís skipped through several challenges and only Andrés Iniesta’s hand prevented the cross reaching Griezmann. The reprieve was brief, Griezmann stroking the spot kick beyond Ter Stegen.
While this is a great win by Atleti, questions will have to be asked as to what has happened to Barcelona? They have uncharacteristically collapsed over the last three weeks. Is it fatigue from playing so many games this season with a small squad? Or is it simply that the best player on the planet Lionel Messi is scoreless in the last e 452 minutes for Barcelona, his worst run of form since April 2010?
Either way, if Luis Enrique does not get Messi and his firing soon, Atleti will take more than their Champions League crown. They will take their La Liga title also!