Luis Suarez lifts Barcelona to victory over Atletico Madrid after Torres red
BARCELONA, Spain -- Three things from the Camp Nou as Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinal first leg finished Barcelona 2-1 Atletico Madrid.
1. Barca win tale of two ex-Liverpool strikers
Barcelona's Luis Suarez was the two-goal hero and Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres the sent off villain as the Catalans took a 2-1 advantage from Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinal first leg at the Camp Nou.
Torres' action-packed opening 35 minutes included a fine goal and two quick yellow cards. Suarez also sailed close to the wind before twice using his poaching instincts to make Barca's second half pressure pay, ensuring his side bounced back from Clasico disappointment with a positive result.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone surprised many with an attacking XI that featured the fit again Yannick Carrasco in attack alongside Torres and Antoine Griezmann. The visitors were impressive through the opening stages, pressing Barca high up the pitch and going ahead when Torres finished superbly from Koke's clever assist. But his sending off minutes later left his teammates facing an uphill battle they couldn't win on the night.
This was Atletico's fifth sending off in their last five games against Barca; Diego Simeone's team finished last January's La Liga visit with just nine men. As such, they settled in to defend deep after half-time and Messi and Neymar both came inches away from an equaliser. Often all 19 outfield players were packed into the 40 yards near the Atletico goal and eventually the pressure told, with Suarez flicking in the equaliser from close range.
There were still almost 30 minutes to play and Barca kept their foot on the throttle, with Suarez flirting with a red card himself before making it 2-1 with a powerful header.
The game continued to be scrappy and hard for German referee Felix Brych to control: young Atletico defender Lucas Hernandez and wily Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets also flirted with potential dismissals. In the end, just like in January here, Atletico battled really well when undermanned but were still beaten.
Over history, these sides have met 30 times in two-legged ties. Atletico have never gone through after losing the first meeting (in 13 attempts) and although they have an away goal, they now face a huge challenge in next Wednesday's return game at their Estadio Vicente Calderon.
2. Fernando Torres makes his mark
The first half was all about Fernando Torres. The now 32-year-old "El Nino" began the game in a storm of action, leading the Atletico press from the front while showing some clumsy touches on the ball.
Then, on 25 minutes, Koke played Torres into space near the penalty spot and his finish was swift and unerring. After a horrid run of form through the winter, this was his fifth goal in his last 10 games including the clincher for Chelsea in the 2012 UCL semifinal at the Camp Nou.
By then, it seemed clear that Simeone's debatable decision to start the veteran looked a pretty wise move. Torres was not finished yet though; far from it. Just four minutes after his goal he clattered into Neymar and picked up a deserved booking. Seconds later he played a superb through-ball from which Antoine Griezmann almost made it 2-0 and in the 34th minute, Torres' night was over. Brych had little option but to show a second yellow after a challenge from behind on Busquets.
Atletico's players and coach Simeone were not happy with the decision, but Torres had brought it on himself as he was clearly caught up in the occasion and unable to control himself. The two punished bookings were both near half-way with no apparent danger to his defence, while in between he also committed a similarly heavy foul on Javier Mascherano.
A whirlwind 10 minutes from the Colchonero folk hero left his team 1-0 up in the tie but a man down for the remaining hour of the first leg. He'll also miss next week's return game with the ensuring division
3. Second half all about Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez had a pretty quiet first half as he was well contained by Atletico's defence, including the 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez. The Uruguay international was mostly notable for an apparent kick at international teammate Diego Godin, for which he immediately apologised and escaped any sanction. Meanwhile, his team's only shot on target before the break was a Mascherano 25-yarder, easily saved by Jan Oblak.
After the break, both Messi and Neymar came close to equalising with audacious efforts but Barca's third South American superstar was still struggling to make an impact, sending a header straight at Oblak. His frustration seemed to be rising as he roared at a linesman after being pulled back by Filipe Luis, then went into the book after a clash with the Atletico left-back off the ball.
It seemed an eruption was imminent but it turned out to be of the positive variety for Barca. Moments after being booked, Suarez was in the right place six yards out to divert Jordi Alba's wayward shot into the net. Eleven minutes later he had his second of the night, meeting Dani Alves' cross with a textbook centre-forward's header.
When these teams met two years ago in this competition, it was Atletico who held the upper hand. But since Suarez brought over his competitive spirit and scoring touch in the summer of 2014, he has been on the winning side in each of their seven clashes. He came close to going too far today but he still made the difference.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan