Over the last couple of seasons, Barcelona have struggled to beat teams away from home in knockout stages. They lost 2-0 to Milan before scoring four in the return leg. Paris-Saint Germain held them to a 2-2 draw and even managed to take the lead at Camp Nou. However it was Lionel Messi coming off the substitute’s bench and providing an assist for Pedro to score the equalizer and aid their progress into the semi-final. They failed to do the same against eventual champions Bayern Munich who thrashed them 4-0 at the Allianz Arena and never gave them a chance in the reverse fixture by scoring another three goals past them.
In the 2011-12 season, a resilient Milan managed to keep the score 0-0 with top performances from Massimo Ambrosini and Alessandro Nesta. However at Camp Nou, they ended up losing 3-1. Chelsea eked out a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge and ‘parked the bus’ for a 2-2 draw to send them packing out of the competition.
When they won the Champions League in 2010-11 season, Arsenal beat them at the Emirates only to be reduced to ten-men in the second leg and lose 3-1.
Prior to that, Stuttgart produced their best performance to get a 1-1 draw but lose the away leg 4-0. Arsenal and Barcelona played out a 2-2 draw with Cesc Fabregas scoring the equalizer only to go down 4-1 a week later.
Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan won 3-1 at the San Siro and despite being a man down for more than an hour, they lost 1-0 but went on to win the title.
The only exception to when Barcelona have won an away leg in the Champions League tie against a formidable opposition was against Real Madrid back in 2009-10. They won at the Bernabeu 2-0 and their goals were scored after Pepe was sent-off for a rash challenge on Dani Alves, a decision which was debated in the weeks to come.
What this goes to suggest is that Barcelona have usually relied on their home fixture to get their desired result and thereby progress. Now there is nothing wrong with that as most teams do have a similar statistic in Europe.
It must be noted that the Blaugrana have failed to get the better of Atletico Madrid on four occasions this season. Two games have ended goal-less and they have twice been bailed out by Neymar after Rojiblancos have taken the lead.
Diego Simeone is tactically astute and knew how to stifle Barcelona. His players maintained their defensive line and attacked with power and pace to catch the opposition off-guard.
In the first half, the best chances fell to Atletico as David Villa whipped his shot wide from 12 yards out following Pinto’s mistake and later forced him into making a top save. Barcelona’s best moment came before the half hour mark when Messi found Andres Iniesta with a gem of a pass with Diego Godin putting in a tackle to deny the Spaniard.
Apart from that Barcelona’s play was uninspiring as they kept the ball but lacked penetration. They had an astounding 71.1% possession.
Credit is due for Marc Bartra who did a commendable job at the back following Gerard Pique’s injury. He was often the last man and held his own against Diego Costa and later David Villa.
Diego Ribas’s out of the world goal put his side ahead which was canceled out by Neymar. Thereafter it was a Thibaut Courtois show as he denied Sergio Busquets, Iniesta and a free-kick by Messi. The Belgian’s stopped Iniesta’s shot from 25-yards out which was truly world class as he got across the goal to tip his attempt round the post. He made as many as five saves in the game and looked far more assured than Pinto in goal.
Barcelona’s task is certainly not easy as they travel to the Calderon where Atletico haven’t lost a game in the La Liga or the Champions League this season. They have the meanest defense in Europe having conceded a mere five goals in Europe.
Most of the teams who travel to Camp Nou aren’t able to contend with the relentless attacks of Barcelona but Atletico held their own. They even managed to contain Messi who was often seen dropping deep, not a good sign when you want him to play upfront terrorizing the defenders instead of having to dribble from the middle of the park to create for his team-mates.
Yes, Atletico would miss the services of Diego Costa but the odds are stacked against the Catalan giants. Tata Martino has already stated that his tenure as the Barcelona manager would be a “failure” should his side exit the competition at this stage.
It’s up to Martino and Barcelona to find a way to beat Simeone’s organized Atletico who choke the spaces and hit on the counter.
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