Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: 6 Things We Learned

Tre' Atkinson@@TreAtkinsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Barcelona: 6 Things We Learned

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    It seems rather unfair that the biggest game of the La Liga season thus far ended in a scoreless draw. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid traded blows, literally, but in the end, it would be a stalemate despite the edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

    With both teams forced to settle for a single point, the only real winner today was Real Madrid, barring they are able to win their match tomorrow. Yet for a scoreless draw, the clash at the Vicente Calderon taught us quite a bit.

    In this article, we will take a look at six things we learned from the massive clash and what they mean for the clubs and Spain.

     

    * All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com

Gerard Pique Has Still Got It

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    Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has caught a lot of flak over the last two seasons due to inconsistent form and a knack for making random mistakes. But we caught a glimpse of the real Pique against Atletico Madrid.

    The Catalan center-back was not just good on Saturday, he was outstanding. Pique never put a foot wrong, making six tackles, including a stop as the last man back. 

    Pique put himself in the right places at the right times and was a force in front of Victor Valdes. We did not see the usual careless play or awkward touch; the defender was perfect.

    He was even awarded the Man-of-the-Match honors by WhoScored.com, and I have to agree with their assessment. It is easy to hate on a defender when he isn't playing well, but Pique deserves just as much praise for his stellar performance against Atletico.

    In fact, the entire Blaugrana defense performed superbly. Fans can be nothing but proud of the back line.

Atletico Madrid's Defense Is Still the Best in Europe

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    Keeping with the theme of defense, Atletico Madrid once again proved that they are one of the best defensive sides in all of Europe. I even feel confident saying they boast the very best in the world.

    Not only did Atletico manage to keep Barcelona at bay, they did so without really having to park the bus as most teams do. They stood toe-to-toe with the Catalans and challenged them head on with fearlessness. 

    Even after Lionel Messi and Neymar came into the game the home side refused to budge. For the most part, Los Colchoneros neutralized Messi, Neymar and any other Barcelona attacker.

    Barcelona were held to only two shots on target and struggled to get through the wall that the back line had set up.

    Diego Simeone is one of the best managers in football and it definitely shows defensively. He had his players organized, and even the attackers played important roles on the defensive side of the ball.

    Call it what you want, Atletico Madrid's defense is second to none right now. 

La Liga Referees Continue to Be Awful

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    If you watch Spanish football regularly, then you are all too aware of the poor quality of officiating in La Liga. The ongoing questionable decision-making from the men with the flags and whistles was yet again on display Saturday.

    Only five yellow cards were given throughout the match, and though that may seem like a good bit, it is actually terribly low considering what took place on the pitch.

    Jordi Alba and Javier Mascherano committed enough fouls to be sent off several times, as did Diego Costa, Godin and Gabi. Other players like Neymar, are lucky to not have received bookings.

    As expected, it was a very physical game. But there is a big difference between playing physically and being out of control. The referee never really had control of this one and both sides are really lucky that it did not get too out of hand, or there could have been big problems.

    For the most part the players were content to keep on playing, but Andres Iniesta may have gotten the worse of it as Barcelona announced on their official website that he sustained a right knee contusion and will undergo further tests.

    It could have been a lot worse, but it also shouldn't have been this bad. 

Messi and Neymar Were Relatively Invisible

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    First of all, Lionel Messi and Neymar did not play badly by any means. However, they also did not play anywhere near the level that we are used to seeing from them.

    I, for one, expected things to be decided when Messi entered the match after halftime, and again when Neymar was subbed on. But that did not happen.

    Neither attacker really changed the game at all and were relatively invisible for long stretches. Messi was able to get off a nice header and a shot from a tight angle, but he did not have the impact that Barcelona was hoping for. Neymar had even less of an effect.

    The attacking duo combined for just 51 touches. Granted they had limited playing time, but you have to expect more from them in a game of this magnitude. Another number that is shocking is the fact that Neymar only won a single dribble in the match.

    Both players are understandably not in their best rhythm. Messi is just returning from injury while Neymar hasn't played in over a week, but Barcelona needed more from their best players.

Atletico Madrid Are for Real

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    At this point, the world is aware of what Atletico Madrid are doing. Diego Simeone's men toppled Real Madrid last year and continue to improve at an outstanding rate.

    For many, the claim that Atletico Madrid are for real is common knowledge. However, there are still many who don't take them seriously and that is a woeful mistake.

    Atletico Madrid boasts one of the best keepers and defenses in football, incredible playmakers, a world-class striker and arguably the most brilliant and demanding manager in the game in Diego Simeone. The sky is truly the limit.

    To be honest, Los Colchoneros could actually win a treble this season. They are real competitors in La Liga, have already proven they can win the Copa del Rey and have been one of the strongest clubs in this year's Champions League.

    It is time that the world takes Atletico Madrid seriously. They are one of the strongest teams in Europe today and very well could be lifting silverware for the foreseeable future.

The La Liga Title Is Up for Grabs

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    Many will say that Real Madrid are the only winners from this match as they can now make up ground on the top two with a win against Espanyol tomorrow. Yet at the same time, this could spell bad news for Real Madrid as it shows they are competing with both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

    In truth, it is absolutely impossible to predict who is going to win La Liga this season. 

    Barcelona has been outstanding, but playing in two other competitions could see them slip up at some point. The same is true for Atletico. Real Madrid, on the other hand, could move to within three points of the top tomorrow, but still have more ground to make up.

    At this point, the league really is up in the air. Three different clubs could be lifting the trophy at the end of the season and is guaranteed to be an absolutely outstanding race to the finish.

     

    What do you make of the scoreless draw in Madrid? Who will win La Liga this season? Leave your thoughts and comments below!