When Barcelona signed Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014, it looked like it would spell the end for opposing defenses. Nobody would be able to stop the trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Atletico Madrid found that out as quickly as anyone. In their first seven matches after the signing, they conceded at least one goal to the trio in each match, and sometimes even two or three. It looked like MSN would lord over Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side.
Then they met in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals last season and Atleti shut the trio down en route to a 2-0 win that eliminated Barcelona. And when they met in La Liga action on Wednesday, Simeone’s men did it again, keeping the vaunted trio off the scoresheet in a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou.
This may sound overly simplistic, and to a degree it is, but Atletico Madrid have managed to stop Messi, Neymar and Suarez, and by extension Barcelona.
Over the last two matches against Barcelona, Simeone hasn’t utilized the same hyper-aggressive fullbacks that he usually does, or even much of a press. Atletic have conceded space on the wings and dared Barcelona to hit crosses. On Wednesday, it backfired once, as Andres Iniesta’s inch-perfect cross found Ivan Rakitic for the Catalans’ goal. But it also kept Barcelona from getting the ball into the feet of their three stars, or when they did, it kept them away from goal.
When the ball does come closer to the center, Atleti are more concerned with taking away the space in the box. None of them has space to turn or move inside the area and there are usually two, if not three Atleti defenders waiting for them. Outside of the box, Atleti are more concerned with cutting off Messi, Neymar and Suarez’s angles for passes than closing them down.
That Simeone’s teams have no fear or any level of intimidation helps. That’s how Atleti play at all times; it’s a trait they get from their manager. And they have no qualms with physicality. On top of their brilliant tactical defending and ability to control spaces, they also will knock opposing players to the ground time and time again.
Atletico Madrid used to be at Barcelona’s mercy, or more accurately, Messi, Neymar and Suarez’s. But they’ve found a formula to keep the trio in check and, unsurprisingly, the results have followed. MSN will undoubtedly find the net again against Atleti because players that good can’t be completely shut down, but Simeone has finally figured out how to approach the trio, and Atletico Madrid are standing toe-to-toe with the Catalan giants as a result.