After Atletico Madrid dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League on Wednesday night, you can make a case for them being a better team than the Catalan giants.
Diego Simeone’s men only had a fifth of the possession of Tata Martino’s side but created the better chances and left the frame of the goal shaking on numerous occasions.
Barcelona rarely looked like scoring a goal which would have levelled the tie at 1-1 on the night and mirrored the first game’s score.
Atletico are one point ahead of their more illustrious rivals in La Liga too.
That is the best measure of a side, rather than a knockout competition in which luck can play a significant part.
If Atletico Madrid win the league this season, then there can be no doubt they are the best side in Spain.
The word team is important—most would agree that individually, Barcelona have the better players.
As good as Diego Costa is, he’s no Lionel Messi.
Koke is on his way to becoming magnificent, but Andres Iniesta is already there.
Atletico were missing their talisman Costa, but Barcelona were hamstrung too.
Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes are two of the better parts in a defence that is creaky enough with them in it, and both were injured absentees on Wednesday night.
They couldn’t handle the movement of David Villa and Adrian Lopez.
But the real problems for Barcelona lay in just how organised Simeone’s troops were.
The Argentine manager is proud of his men and the way they fight together, as a team.
Sometimes Barcelona can look like a collection of individuals, particularly Messi and Neymar.
Simeone said after the game in a press conference, as per AS:
The players just keep going. I admire them. More than just loving them, I love them for the effort they put in. The style is that of the team, not mine. And they never betray it. Great battles are won by those who approach them better. Our players never betrayed our plan, because there is a feeling here and everyone feels it.
The players played for each other. There was an immense spirit and a connection between the supporters at the Calderon and the players, something that goes missing in larger grounds like Camp Nou and the Bernabeu.
The teams have now met on five occasions this season and the results have been four draws and Wednesday night’s win for Atletico.
They have been tight, tough, tricky occasions and neither side have been particularly dominant in any of the games.
Barcelona, of course, have more of the ball, but possession without a cutting edge cannot be considered worthy of much merit.
When asked what might happen in the final meeting between these teams, on the last day of the season, Barcelona boss Tata Martino came up with an unconvincing response.
“I see no reason why the next match will be any different,” he said at his post-match press conference, as per the Daily Mail.
Those are not words Blaugrana supporters will welcome as the La Liga title race comes towards its end.
Deciding whether one team is better than another is usually a subjective task, but you would imagine the likes of Bayern and Chelsea would rather have faced Barcelona than Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid are a different story—the bitter rivalry with Barcelona usually brings out the best in the Catalans.
Smaller sides in La Liga would rather face Atletico than Barcelona, because the Blaugrana’s barrage of attackers are particularly difficult to handle.
Atletico’s strengths equip them better to take on technically better sides than their own.
Whether that makes them in turn a better team is a matter that will be hotly debated.
One thing is for sure—they were better than Barcelona over two legs in the Champions League and have a place in the semi-finals as their reward.