Diego Simeone credits Barcelona’s recent form to arrival of Luis Suarez

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone admitted it was his decision to play “with less ambition” during the second half of yesterday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg at the Vicente Calderon. The Argentine boss acknowledged that his side were second-best to Barcelona – who won the match 3-2 (4-2 on aggregate) – and credited his opponent’s recent run of form to their heightened intensity, as well as the arrival of Luis Suarez.

“I tried to do what’s best for the team and the club. It was my decision that we played with little ambition to score another goal,” Simeone said during his post-match press conference. “We played in a way that was most convenient. I’m the coach and make what I feel are the best decisions.”

“Barcelona are playing with more intensity. The arrival of Luis Suarez has strengthened their squad. Bravo and Ter Stegen make a difference too. They are in a very rich vein of form currently.”

Atletico were forced to come out on the attack against Barcelona after leaving the first leg at the Camp Nou with a 1-0 deficit.

Fernando Torres opened the scoring after only 45 seconds to give Los Colchoneros a huge lift. But Luis Enrique’s side countered with a magical sequence several minutes later as the ball started with Lionel Messi (who has been exceptional since being benched against Real Sociedad), who then found Luis Suarez, who in-turn found Neymar streaking towards Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. The Brazilian calmly placed a shot past the keeper to level the match and give Barcelona a crucial away goal.

Atletico were awarded a fortunate penalty when Juanfran was taken down by Javier Mascherano – although replays showed the foul took place just outside the area. Regardless, Raul Garcia stepped up to the spot, blasted a firm shot past Ter Stegen and gave the home side a 2-1 lead.

But Atletico were then undone by some misfortune. Centre-back Miranda scored an own-goal in the 38th minute while attempting to clear a free-kick from a Barcelona set-piece. The corner kick deflected off of Sergio Busquets’ head only to be inadvertently deflected into his own goal by Miranda.

Later, Simeone’s men were on the losing side of a decision when an apparent handball by Jordi Alba went unseen by match referee Gil Manzano. The ensuing counter-attack saw Barcelona streak into Atletico’s half where Neymar gave the away side a 3-2 cushion. That 41st minute goal basically ended the tie, since the Madrid club would need to score three more times to advance past their La Liga rivals.

Things were made worse for Simeone’s side when it was learned that Gabi had been sent off for verbally abusing the match referee in the tunnel at halftime. Both the player and his manager have stated that all that was said was: “Jesus, it was a penalty and a red card, when you watch the telly you’ll see you got it wrong.” But in Manzano’s official report, the referee states that the player had been booked for approaching him, pointing at him and protesting in the tunnel.

Atletico were later reduced to nine men when midfielder Mario Suarez was sent off for a second bookable offense and were lucky to not have seen another player dismissed earlier in the half. Midfielder Arda Turan was seen to have thrown his boot at the linesman in a display of petulance, after what the player perceived as a foul by Barcelona. Turan was fortunate only to have been shown a yellow card for the bizarre action.

Although the level of intensity dropped off significantly in the second half, the contest was brutal at times. Atletico Madrid came out with the intention to really ‘boss’ Barcelona in every area of the pitch. But Luis Enrique’s side matched the home side’s intensity, didn’t get flustered by the heavy fouls and showcased their superior attacking quality.

Barcelona have now won seven straight matches in all competitions and will prepare to face Villarreal on Sunday (3pm EST on beIN SPORTS and DishWorld). While Atletico Madrid will refocus and ready themselves for a trip to Eibar on Saturday.

 

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