FC Barcelona

Barcelona's Ability to Subdue Atletico Madrid's Physical Approach Pays Dividends

Luis Suarez's goal was the difference between the sides in a compelling game of football.
Luis Suarez's goal was the difference between the sides in a compelling game of football.Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Jason PettigroveContributor IJanuary 31, 2016

Barcelona always knew that their Primera Division game against Atletico Madrid on Saturday would be a physical contest if not season-defining at this stage.

Yes, the 2-1 win put the Blaugrana three points clear of their nearest rivals with a game in hand and the advantage in head-to-head record.

But there is far too much water to pass under this particular bridge before the Catalans can even think about a retention of the league trophy.

The way in which Barca went about negating Atleti's overly physical approach deserves endless kudos, however.

Diego Simeone's side are well-known for playing right on the edge, and there's always a chance this can spill over.

Diego Simeone appeared frustrated that his players' energy and passion wasn't harnessed correctly against Barcelona.
Diego Simeone appeared frustrated that his players' energy and passion wasn't harnessed correctly against Barcelona.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

But let's not forget it's a contact sport, and as long as the challenges are within the laws of the game and the bounds of acceptability, then let them play on. The sanitisation of football to some extent has to take a back seat on such occasions.

Until Lionel Messi had equalised Koke's fabulous opener for the visitors, the Rojiblancos were on top in the game, both in a footballing and physical sense.

You couldn't say Barca were frightened as such, just perhaps not up for the fight.

That all seemed to change once the hosts were in front and after Filipe Luis almost finished Messi's season. A few inches lower and his challenge might well have broken the Argentinian's leg.

Filipe Luis was deservedly sent off for the crudest of challenges on Lionel Messi.
Filipe Luis was deservedly sent off for the crudest of challenges on Lionel Messi.Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Luis Enrique's reaction on the sidelines told us everything.

In that one moment, it was roll-your-sleeves-up time. Go hard or go home. Barca would need to dig deep and accept the battering if they wanted the win.

BeIN Sports' Christian Vieri suggested in live half-time analysis the player should be banned for 10 weeks because "you can't play football like this."

Diego Godin's second yellow was unfortunate, falling for countryman Luis Suarez's clever play in getting to the ball first.

With Neymar also consistently the target of the opposition hard men, as he has been during the last few games, it's a wonder how Barca haven't got an injury list as long as your arm.

Diego Godin fell for Luis Suarez's clever play.
Diego Godin fell for Luis Suarez's clever play.JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

What the games against Espanyol and Atleti in particular tell us, and also to a degree the ones against Malaga and Athletic Club, is this Barca can deal with the rough stuff.

They still play the sweetest type of football when given licence, but we can see the change-up to something a little more industrial if the situation requires it.

Teams are no longer getting the better of the Blaugrana in a physical battle and are having to resort to crude challenges in their place.

Gerard Pique is just one to epitomise the resolve that Barcelona have when up against more physical opponents now.
Gerard Pique is just one to epitomise the resolve that Barcelona have when up against more physical opponents now.PAU BARRENA/Getty Images

If there were a discussion to be had as to how to beat the Catalans, it would probably revolve around the fact Barca had a bit of a soft underbelly. Not anymore.

Lucho has them playing in his own style: combative, competitive and, when needed, angry.

The energy and tempo with which his team continues to play is astonishing. This was their ninth and final game of a tough January, with eight more fixtures to come in February. One game every three days for the opening two months of 2016.

It's certainly an interesting run of games too. Per Barca's official site, the two home league fixtures will mirror Saturday's match because neither Sevilla nor Celta Vigo will be coming to the Camp Nou to make up the numbers.

And on the road, Barca play the bottom three. Sporting Gijon, Levante and Las Palmas are all fighting for their La Liga lives. Therefore, none is likely to be an easy game.

It is a brutal schedule, and it could be a bruising one, but in taking on Atleti at their own game and winning, the Catalans have shown they've got what it takes to last the distance.

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