Neymar came off the bench to score his first goal for Barcelona and earn his side a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid in a keenly contested first-leg of the Spanish Super Cup at the Vicente Calderon. Ironically, David Villa, the man who essentially made way for Neymar at the Camp Nou this summer also registered his first goal for his new club to put them ahead early in the first half. The home side were good value for their lead at the break, but their incredible intensity understandably dropped just a little in the second period and Neymar took advantage to head home.
Barcelona will now be favorites to earn Gerardo Martino his first trophy since taking charge when the sides meet in the return leg at the Camp Nou in a week’s time. And Martino will hope to have Lionel Messi at his disposal for that encounter, after the Argentinian was taken off at half-time after due to a hamstring problem.
Messi had been virtually anonymous before going off, for which Atletico must surely take some of the credit. Despite the unusually late hour of the match, right from the first whistle Atletico matched the passionate atmosphere inside the Vicente Calderon with their performance on the pitch. Villa had even greater reason to be inspired against his former employers and was just unable to turn an early header on target. His dream start would not be denied for much longer.
The forward, who failed to earn back a regular starting berth at the Camp Nou following a broken leg, fed the ball out wide to Arda Turan and then, from a cross to the edge of the box, Villa executed a stunning volley with the outside of his foot into the bottom corner. The lively 31-year-old had a chance for a second soon after too. On this occasion, though, Gerard Pique just got back in time to prevent Villa having a clean shot on goal as he burst through the center.
With Atletico defending deep and applying furious pressure to the ball as soon as it came into their defensive third, Barcelona were struggling to make any inroads offensively. Indeed, they failed to muster a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. The closest they could manage being a Dani Alves cross to the near post that just evaded the head of Alexis Sanchez.
Barcelona finally got in behind the Atletico defense early in the second half after winning the ball back in opposition half. Sanchez was played through but couldn’t take advantage as his effort was saved by Thibaut Courtois before Arda was lucky to escape conceding a penalty for a challenge from behind as Fabregas looked poised to put in the rebound.
The contest was becoming increasingly tetchy, with Sergio Busquets somewhat fortunate not to receive a second yellow card. Looking for some inspiration to break Atletico’s resolve, Martino introduced Neymar and was quickly rewarded, although perhaps not in the circumstances he might have expected. After Dani Alves exchanged passes with Xavi and lofted in a deep cross to the corner of the six-yard box, Neymar showed greater impetus than Juanfran to get to the ball to head past Courtois.
Understandably following their efforts early on, Atletico’s intensity dropped in the final third of the match. Barcelona, though, having gotten an equalizer that put them in pole position to finish the job back home, also showed little impetus to push for a second goal. The only effort of note late on was another shot from Sanchez that was blocked by Courtois in the Atletico goal.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.