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    • #5749
      Topics: 3608
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      By Abayomi Kalejaye

      By forty minutes twenty seconds, Jan Oblak would have been wondering when he would ever have such a stress-free game again in his career.

      The towering Atletico Madrid goal keeper had yet to make a single save against the most lethal attacking team in the game. Two seconds after, he did. Well, sort of. Javier Mascherano’s long range effort was only as good as a training ground punt for the Slovenian international.

      From the get-go, the game was pretty much set up for an Atletico side that have lost in their last six games against the Blaugrana. Real’s Clasico victory on Saturday didn’t only inflict physical weariness but also psychological insecurity on Barcelona.

      For all their devastating attacking prowess, Barcelona’s weakness has always been their fragile defending. Figure it out and you might figure them out. Identification and execution are two separate procedures that require the most effective action. And it was no surprise when Fernando Torres, who has now scored 11 goals in 17 games against Barca, slotted home past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to give his side the lead. Just like in their last three games, Barcelona went behind. Until then, Barca had looked the likely side to score; as it often has been, their defence let them down, again.

      In point of fact, Barcelona’s first half performance, more often than not, didn’t suffice to trouble an Atletico defence that was at its sturdy best. Even when Torres, who seemed to forget he was playing football and not kick-boxing, got his matching orders to leave his team depleted, Barcelona never looked like getting a shot on goal, never mind a goal.

      The hallmark of every great team is their ability to rise up to challenges. And rise they did. In arguably one of their most breathtaking performance of the season, again coming in the second half, Barcelona were able to solve the burdensome riddle that was Atletico’s defence courtesy of two goals from Luis Suarez. The relentless peppering of Atletico’s goal area typified a burning desire from a team that was determined to reassert its capabilities.

      For Atletico, it is understandable if they feel hard done-by the selective officiating of Felix Brych who red-carded Torres but neglected to do same to Suarez for punishment-deserving offences. At the Calderon, Atletico can ride on their home support to knock Barcelona out like they did in 2014.

      Despite a 2-1 result in favour of the defending champions, the tie is still very much alive and only the most effective between the best attack and the best defence in Europe will advance to the next round.

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