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FC Barcelona stayed true to their billing as a team endowed with a heaping dose of resilience, valiantly bouncing back from Saturday’s stinging home league defeat to emerge victorious on the very same pitch in a good old-fashioned Champions League thriller, with two goals from Luis Suárez leading Barça back from an early one-goal deficit to beat ten-man Atlético Madrid, 2–1, in the first leg of the quarter-finals on Tuesday night at Camp Nou.
If the match they played just 72 hours before was a head-scratching anomaly for a team that saw a Spanish record 39-game unbeaten streak snapped by their eternal foil, Real Madrid, Tuesday night’s performance was Barça in a nutshell.
Down 1–0 midway through the second half, and with the decibel level at Camp Nou reaching a deafening pitch, Barça came agonizingly close to tying the game on multiple occasions but were repeatedly thwarted by mere centimetres.
It became strikingly clear that the match had morphed into cat-and-mouse football with the mighty Barça bearing its teeth and claws while the slick Atlético were somehow, some way, continually emerging unscathed.
Then, it happened.
In the 63rd minute, Luis Suárez, lingering in front of Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak, yet still on-sides, redirected a deflected shot from the boot of Neymar Jr into the net to tie the match. The Camp Nou exploded, with an 88,534-strong chorus providing the soundtrack as the Catalans pushed even harder to take the lead.
By the 75-minute mark, though, FC Barcelona were still searching for that elusive second goal.
Then, Suárez struck again. The Uruguayan, alone in the middle of the area, took a cross from Dani Alves and blasted a header into the back of the net for a 2–1 lead.
Atlético, down not just a man, but a goal as well, were hanging on for dear life. Oblak, who had tested the referee’s patience since the opening whistle, was finally booked for a delay of game in the 78th.
A smattering of other chances for FCB came close but they were unable to stretch the lead.
The 2–1 victory — the third time in three games Barça have beaten Atlético by the same score this season, the other two coming in La Liga — gives the Catalans a slight advantage heading into next Wednesday’s return leg at the Vicente Calderón in the Spanish capital.
It is also Barça’s 11th straight home win in the Champions League and keeps head coach Luis Enrique undefeated in the competition since joining FCB.
Lionel Messi, who has scored more goals on Atlético than any other player, was held in check for the second straight game in his bid to score his 450th goal for FC Barcelona and his 500th overall (he has 50 for Argentina).
The loss is Atlético’s first on the road this season in the Champions League.
With goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen the lone change in FCB manager Luis Enrique’s starting eleven, the star-studded Catalans had vowed to ensure their weekend reversal would be permanently filed away under outlier status.
But in the 25th minute, Fernando Torres split defenders Alves and Javier Mascherano to take a no-look pass from Koke before firing from two paces right of the penalty spot through the legs of Ter Stegen for a 1–0 lead. It was Torres’s 11th goal in 15 career matches against FC Barcelona.
The highly valuable away goal may have been a punch to Barça’s gut, but the Catalans were by no means in uncharted territory.
Antoine Griezmann came within a fingernail of doubling Atlético’s lead in the 30th but a spectacular parry by the tumbling Ter Stegen averted certain disaster.
The game’s turning point came in minute 34 when Torres was booked for the second time, sending Atlético down to 10-men for the remainder, and ensuring he would not be around to further torment Barça in next week’s second leg. Both of Torres’s yellow cards were unnecessary, the second egregiously so, coming on a hard, late tackle from behind on Sergio Busquets near midfield.
It was déjà vu all over again as Barça found themselves up a man for the second time in three days, only this time they were hoping the man advantage would pay off.
And it did.
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