Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone heaped praise on Lionel Messi after the 1-1 draw with Barcelona on Saturday evening.
Amidst all the talk of politics, pitches and superstars, it was teamwork that decided Atletico’s draw with Barcelona in the first clash between the two sides at the Wanda Metropolitano to see the Catalans maintain their unbeaten start to La Liga.
Lionel Messi was the star for Argentina in midweek, but the opening goal came for Atletico and impressively had the longest combination of passes, 18, in a goal against Barcelona since 2005/06.
The very first chance fell to that man Messi. It took him just 30 seconds to come close to scoring, but he could not do quite enough to beat Jan Oblak.
“Wonferful, another night of brilliant football, a good game, with each team with its own characteristics, an impressive Messi, who wasn’t too tired after his travels like many expected. And an Atletico competing like in all the big games. We leave with the feeling that we’re doing well and we want to keep competing like this moving forward,” explained Simeone to reporters following the game.
Then, it was the turn of the home team’s superstar to take up the reigns. First, he jumped on a poor pass from Andres Iniesta and forced Marc-Andre Ter Stegen into a smart near post save, then waltzed through three Barcelona defenders before testing the German on his other side.
It was a homegrown talent who lit up the Wanda Metropolitano with a stunning curling strike into the bottom corner as Saul Niguez registered a crucial goal.
From that moment on, Atletico drew back and allowed Barcelona to dominate possession. With the goal giving them the advantage, they were content to allow the Catalans to dominate play, only stepping in to break up moves as and when they posed a threat.
Atletico had never lost with Saul on the scoresheet, whilst Barcelona had never lost with referee Matheu Lahoz in charge, do something would have to change if one side were to take home the three points.
Yet Lahoz did the visitors no favours as he waved to play on both when Lionel Messi was surrounded and bundled over in the penalty box just before the break and when Stefan Savic appeared to handle the ball to block a cross in his own box.
The number 10 was determined not to be beaten though, and his second half free-kick hit the post as it curled just too far to find its way past Oblak to secure an equaliser.
With Andre Gomes the surprise selection on the right of midfield, Ernesto Valverde desperately needed to provide some kind of impetus in his first real test as Barcelona manager as his side struggled to break open the Atletico defence.
Even Messi struggled, again hitting the post as he pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the box, with Luis Suarez also coming close as he tested the Atleti goalkeeper.
It was the Uruguayan who did beat the Slovenian shot stopper, drifting away from Savic as Sergi Roberto’s perfectly weighted cross was headed down and into the back of the net by the centre forward.
Suarez could have had a winner as he looked to stretch to get a stud on a ball in from Gerard Deulofeu, but the draw was how it remained.
Given Atletico’s bright start, many Colchoneros may well feel that Barcelona were there for the taking. For the visitors, they had plenty of chances to have levelled the scores and even taken the lead earlier. With the Catalans far from their clynical best, a point apiece seems a fair result.