Unconvincing, but SuperChampions nonetheless

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona achieved a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Atletico Madrid in the return leg of the Spanish Supercopa, which enabled the Blaugranas to win the competition with an aggregate 1-1 score line on away goals. The Blaugranas enjoyed 74 percent of possession, created eight goal-scoring chances and attempted five shots, one of them on target and one to the post.

Key 1 -- There was huge expectation to see the returning Lionel Messi and on-form Neymar starting their first match together at the Camp Nou. After a summer of constant, unfounded speculation about their relationship off the pitch, this was a great chance to prove both talented players can actually coexist within the team.

Gerardo Martino modified Messi's position slightly in order to allow more spaces for the Brazilian to make diagonal forward runs into from his wide wing position. While La Pulga was still given plenty of freedom to roam around the Catalans' attacking third, he was often found starting his trademark dribbling slaloms from the right flank.

Neymar, similarly to the rest of his Barcelona teammates, was mostly unable to break through the very aggressive, well-organised Atletico defence. He did beat his marker on occasion, but generally struggled to make any majorly decisive impact. Having said that, he admirably kept trying to find a way through until the final whistle was blown.

It would be fair to say that the Brazilian youngster has been hardworking and brilliant in equal parts since he joined Barcelona. Let's be patient and remember that the adaptation process to his new club has only just begun. Considering his faultless attitude and clear determination to listen and learn from his teammates and mentors, I am confident that further improvement will be visible very soon.

Key 2 -- As it happened last week at the Vicente Calderon, the game was far from legendary; more of a physical, tactical battle. Barcelona often crashed into the terrific defensive formation that coach Diego Simeone implemented. Atletico tracked back as a solid unit, with every player, including star signing David Villa, backing each other up whenever their lines were beaten.

The Blaugranas did have control of possession, but that didn't result in clear chances as often as the hosts would have hoped. There was so little between the teams that the final goalless draw seemed a fair result. Of course, there were also plenty of frightening tackles, red cards and even missed penalties in the process, but all is well that ends well.

It was not pretty, but every positive result helps in order to build the team's confidence -- especially when a trophy, however small in terms of importance, is lifted and celebrated in front of the home crowd. Sure, the Supercopa is the less prestigious title in the Spanish calendar, but having won it for the 11th time in the club's history can't be a bad base upon which to build the rest of the season.

Key 3 -- Andres Iniesta was benched for the most important game of the year so far despite being fully fit, with Cesc Fabregas being preferred for the interior midfielder role instead. Despite the fact that many might find such decision highly controversial, I strongly believe that the former Arsenal captain was fully deserving of his starting spot based on recent performances.

The season has only just begun and, at this moment in time, those players who have managed to reach that little bit of extra fitness have a clear edge above the rest.

The below-par, less influential performances from Xavi and Iniesta so far are closely related to their lack of spark after many years of playing above 60 matches per season between club and country -- appearances for the Spanish national team during their summer breaks included. Let's hope they regain their former fitness in plenty of time before the crucial games come later on in the year.

From a more positive perspective, however, it is reassuring to see that El Tata won't hesitate to rotate players for the overall benefit of the team, whatever their names may be -- a positive change from last season, may I add.

Man of the Match -- Victor Valdes ensured the Blaugranas ended up lifting the trophy with a couple of phenomenal saves in key moments of the game. Regular readers of this column will be aware that I was not impressed by the way he handled his refusal of a new contract, but credit must be given when deserved: La Pantera has started his last season at the Camp Nou in spectacular fashion.

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Victor Valdes (9)

Dani Alves (6), Gerard Pique (6), Javier Mascherano (8), Jordi Alba (6)

Sergio Busquets (7), Xavi Hernandez (5), Cesc Fabregas (5)

Lionel Messi (6), Neymar Jr (6), Alexis Sanchez (5)

Substitutes: Andres Iniesta (5), Pedro Rodriguez (5)

The Quote -- "This title belongs to the players, the coaches and Tito Vilanova. It was an intense game, we won't always be able to play the way we want to. We need to find more speed, be more precise, find more spaces but, considering the season has only just started, winning this title is not bad at all." -- Martino

Have your say

What did you think of the Blaugrana performance vs. Atletico de Madrid?

Who was your Man of the Match? Do you agree with the Player Ratings?

I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

Follow Francesc Tomas at @TomasESPN and Barcablog Facebook for more news and opinion notes on Barcelona; 34,000 Cules have already joined.


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