Barcelona are champions of the Spanish Super Cup for the 11th time in their history thanks to a second leg 0-0 draw versus Atlético Madrid on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou. With last week’s first leg 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderón, the Catalonians earn the honor of raising the trophy thanks to their away goal.
It was just the second ever goalless draw in a Super Cup contest, matching the 0-0 first leg between Espanyol and Deportivo in 2000. Barcelona manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino also becomes just the third Argentine to win a Supercopa, joining César Menotti and Héctor Cúper.
Unlike their recent history at the Camp Nou where they endured several thumpings, Atlético were undaunted the entire 90 minutes and went toe-to-toe with the league champions. In the effort, the ‘Colchoneros’ signaled their own league title candidacy and could very well this season disrupt the Madrid/Barcelona dominance of the past decade.
For the first time in an official match this season, Martino elected to start both Lionel Messi and Neymar with the new Brazilian flanked to the left of the Argentine and Chilean Alexis Sánchez rounding out a South American front three. In the middle, an eyebrow or two was raised with the omission of Andres Iniesta. In place of the La Mancha midfielder was Cesc Fabregas who teamed with Xavi and Sergio Busquets. In the back goalkeeper Victor Valdés had a defensive four of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba at fullback and Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano at center-back.
Atlético boss Diego Simeone elected to roll out the same starting XI from last week’s first leg draw with Juanfran, Miranda, Godín and Filipe Luís in the back protecting goalkeeper Courtois. Arda Turan and Koke assumed their positions on the wings while Gabi and Mario Suárez anchored the center of the pitch. And of course Diego Costa and former Barcelona man David Villa formed the strike pairing for Simeone’s side.
Barcelona nearly struck early in the ninth minute when Busquets threaded an inch-prefect ball to Messi but the Argentine’s first touch was slightly off and Courtois was able to close down and swallow up the ball.
The hosts continued their dominance of possession for the better part of the second half but in the final ten minutes of the first stanza Atlético started to find their way within the Barcelona half. Koke scuffed a shot in the 35th minute that should have posed more danger and then seven minutes later Turan sent Piqué flying with a quick cutback before forcing Valdés into a tremendous save on a left-footed effort.
Atlético continued to grow into the game and in the early stages they sustained pressure in the Barcelona half and nearly willed themselves to the opening goal when a ball fell to Villa who fired a shot that was barely slapped away by Valdés.
As for the Messi/Neymar partnership, it was an inauspicious start. Messi was frustrated all night long at the lack of chances while Neymar constantly lost his footing on the Camp Nou turf and also passed open a wide open side volley in the 67th minute after a pinpoint ball in from Dani Alves.
Nevertheless, the hosts had a late push up their sleeve and got a spark by second half substitutions Pedro and Iniesta. An 80th minute Filipe Luís red card gave Barcelona the man advantage and then eight minutes later a Miranda tackle on Pedro in the box earned Barcelona a penalty. But in what was nearly a carbon copy of his penalty miss versus Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League second leg semifinal, Messi rattled the spot kick off the crossbar to keep Atlético’s hopes flickering.
However, in the end, Barcelona staved off any danger from the visitors and the Camp Nou trophy room will have new company in the form of the 2013 Super Cup trophy.