Wednesday February 1 2017
Barca survive Atleti onslaught

Barcelona escaped a second-half onslaught to secure a 2-1 win against Atletico Madrid in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final first leg.

Barca made six changes but fielded a first-choice defence and attack against Atleti, who doubled up down the right with Juanfran Torres and Sime Vrsaljko.

The Catalans would dominate the first half and took an early lead through Luis Suarez. His goal had shades of his memorable nutmeg on David Luiz in the Champions League two years ago as he dropped deep to pick the ball up from Javier Mascherano, before driving forward, leaving Stefan Savic for dead and poking a finish past Miguel Moya.

Neymar, meanwhile, was making a mockery of Atleti’s reinforced right flank as he cut inside and fired a low shot at Moya, who needed a second attempt to catch the ball, from close range. He then threaded through Suarez, but the No 9 opted to return the ball first time to the Brazilian, whose first touch was too heavy for Messi to take on.

Nonetheless, a second goal was soon registered. Straight from a Jasper Cillessen goal kick, Suarez played the ball back to Neymar, who in turn found Messi. The Argentine then played a one-two with Ivan Rakitic before smashing a shot past Moya from 20 yards out.

Atleti didn’t test Cillessen until the dying embers of the first half through Koke, whose curling strike swerved just over, but the second period was a different story entirely.

Diego Simeone’s decision to bring on Fernando Torres made an immediate impact, the striker linking up with Gabi seconds into the restart, although the midfielder was just about stopped from a likely goal back by Jordi Alba.

Sure enough, Atleti did cut Barca’s lead as Diego Godin headed a free kick across Cillessen’s goal, which Griezmann nodded home. The Frenchman was then denied by a game-saving stop from Cillessen after the goalkeeper, stationed on his line, denied his opponent from a yard out.

From that point onwards, the game was played in and around the Barca box, barring the rare occasions when Neymar blazed a gilt-edged chance into orbit via Messi’s mazy dribble and layoff and a free kick from the No 10 forced Moya into a full-stretch stop.

Yannick Carrasco crashed an overhead kick onto the roof of Cillessen’s net, before Cillessen’s bad throw fell straight to an Atleti shirt, from which Gameiro fired another acrobatic effort just wide.

Torres proceeded to flick a cross just wide at Cillessen’s near post, and the Dutchman’s distribution came under scrutiny again, when Mascherano was robbed from the Dutchman’s pass out. Torres, however, drove the ball inches wide.

Cillessen spilled a shot from the left but eventually gathered after the referee obstructed Gabi from meeting a layoff. He faced two more strikes from distance, but both went wide as Barca somehow held on for a crucial lead in the tie, with two away goals to their name.

Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

Griezmann 59 (AM) Suarez 7, Messi 33 (B)

Atletico Madrid: Moya; Vrsaljko (Torres 46), Godin, Savic, Filipe; Juanfran, Gabi, Koke, Saul (Gaitan 59); Carrasco (Gameiro 70), Griezmann

Barcelona: Cillessen; Sergi, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic (Denis 58), Mascherano, Gomes (Rafinha 72); Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Referee: De Burgos Bengoetxea

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