For a moment, it looked as if Barcelona’s misfortunes in the wake of their recent loss to Real Madrid would continue. Fernando Torres seemed a vision of his former self when he was played in by a defense-splitting pass from Koke and slotted home the opening goal for Atletico Madrid with just 25 minutes on the clock.
But barely 10 minutes later, Torres received his second yellow card and was sent off, setting the stage for a rampant performance from Barcelona’s Luis Suarez. A man down with over 50 minutes on the clock, Atleti reverted to form, bunkering down with men behind the ball in an effort to protect their narrow lead. For a while, it seemed as if it might work with Atleti even creating a few dangerous chances early in the second half. It took Barcelona until the 63rd minute to finally level up against Diego Simeone’s 10 men. The Uruguayan added a second just over 10 minutes later to give Barcelona a nice lead heading into the second leg.
Suarez took his goals well and, as he has so often been this season, was the difference-maker when Barça needed one. By the time Suarez scored, the Catalans had thrown everything at Atleti – even an attempted bicycle kick from Lionel Messi.
The ceaseless commitment from Suarez to get himself into good goal-scoring positions and fight for every opportunity is what makes him such a dangerous player. However, as it often has in the past – most notably in the biting incident against Italy in the World Cup – it almost boiled over against Atletico. Particularly in an off-the-ball incident that saw him swing a kick at Atletico’s Juanfran that would surely have resulted in a red had the ref seen it. Suarez was eventually booked in the second half for raising a hand to Filipe Luis’ face.
In a game like this – more of an alley fight than a duel between gentlemen – it helps to have a player like Suarez who plays things close to the edge. But it’s a dangerous game. The Barça number nine could easily have been sent off just as his Atleti counterpart was. With the tie poised on a knife’s edge, Barça will take their slim lead to the Vicente Calderon next week. Manager Luis Enrique can count himself lucky that Suarez will be allowed to appear in the match. He will need his edgy, antagonistic striker, teeth and all.
But in the meantime, Barcelona and Atletico resume their La Liga campaigns this weekend.