Let’s introduce this post by saying that we, unlike the 4,000 people who sold out the Ciudad Deportiva Wanda to watch el clásico of Spanish women’s football, did not watch the game. We were one of the many thousands who had to follow it via the FC Barcelona Twitter updates (with the bias that that might have), given that Atlético de Madrid only posted 16 updates during the game to FCB’s 34, and only four of those were of actual play (the others referred to substitutions, start and end of the game, and other random photos). To balance it out, we also followed the game on the radio via Onda Madrid, who had a really unfortunate set of commentators assigned to the task and who at some point thought it was a professional thing to say that Oshoala looked like a male player.
We are some of the many thousands who had no other chance to follow the game on the telly because it wasn’t on, because Mediapro decided not to broadcast it to complain about the fact that FC Barcelona won’t sell its TV rights to this corporation. Mediapro also denied Barça TV entry into the ground. So much so that literally no one other than the eyes who watched it on the day had access to the content of the game. Normally FCB have a ‘Women’s Highlights’ section after every game, and this time around they didn’t, probably because no one actually bothered (or was allowed to) record the content. As if the game never happened.
So against this backdrop, who won the game? It seems like everybody did, so let’s break down this nil-all draw, and try to read between the lines of what everybody is saying.
Atlético won this game
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is factually accurate. Atlético players have all come out to praise their team’s performance, and it seems they actually played like the team their roster would tell you that they are. You could almost say they won the psychological battle. However, winning and surviving are two very different concepts, and when you are in a low point in form, any non-negative result is seen as a positive. They survived the psychological battle because they stopped Barcelona from scoring (the first team to achieve this), and made them drop points (second team to do this). They survived the psychological battle because they did not completely shoot their season by losing to the leaders, which would have pushed them 12 points apart.
They achieved this feat in a week where they replaced their coach and welcomed a new player. A respectable outing given that they had drawn and conceded some non-characteristic goals in the three weeks prior, when they drew against Rayo Vallecano and Sevilla. If they had been in the same trajectory as before, we all expected them to take another three or four goals from FC Barcelona. But they tightened up and resolved their back four issues, and also played more conservatively than they did against Barcelona in the reverse fixture. And that snatched them a draw which can be very valuable… for morale.
Realistically, if anyone bothers checking the cold, hard facts, they did steal a point off Barcelona… but they did also get a draw themselves. The distance between them and the culés remains the exact same: nine points. In fact, the distance that is shortening at lightning pace is theirs with the third spot holder, Levante, who won their game rather convincingly and they now sit two points behind them. Atlético still has to play against Levante, and at this stage the granotas depend on themselves to steal second spot and secure the coveted UWCL spot. Yes, it could have been worse: they could have found themselves 12 points off Barcelona and only one ahead of Levante, but the current grass is only greener if they expected to get trounced by Barcelona. Which at the beginning of the week did not seem an unlikely prospect.
There is much to be said about the psychological battle, and in fact this result might make Atlético kick up a gear and become the team we all expect them to be. It may change its fortunes this season. It definitely also gives them a positive reinforcement that they can compete against Barcelona, particularly considering all the upcoming match ups between them, particularly in the Supercopa in ten days’ time.
However, at the end of the day, it’s the same distance in the league with one round less to play, against a Barcelona team who lost all their starting midfielders and some of their best performers before the game even began, with the oomph of the change of coach, and at home in front of their fans. And allegedly with Lola Gallardo in super saver mode. Allegedly, because we never saw it.
Barcelona won this game
For Barcelona, the draw meant that the status quo was somewhat kept; the distance with Atlético remains the same. But we can sense the disappointment coming from the FC Barcelona camp at the end of the game. Their website report deemed the result “bittersweet”, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Most reports suggest that Barcelona dominated the game and that only their lack of precision in front of goal denied them of the chance to grab one of the handles of the league trophy at this stage. They all coincide that they had the possession and the best chances, and that Atlético recovered their best version by being really tight and hardworking in defence, and Gallardo’s aforementioned big day out.
In the press conference after the game, Lluís Cortés, the FC Barcelona head coach, did mention that the result in itself was possibly better for his team, given that the distance was maintained in the end, but that it feels a lesser reward when they had chances to put the game away. He was also realistic about the team he had brought to Madrid, mentioning that Aitana Bonmatí got injured in the last action of the training prior to travelling, and that he had mainly an inexperienced bench, and this was not the game to test the kids. He is right, to an extent. Ella Masar gave him some grief on Twitter for not using his subs, however Cortés did not have any midfielders on the bench. Only four defenders (Mel Serrano, Van der Gragt, Crnogorcevic, and youth player Codina) and two forwards (youth players Andújar and Pina), who did come on in the very late stages of the game. On the other side, Dani González subbed on Ludmila, Toni Duggan, Linari and Strom; all of them experienced choices.
FC Barcelona had some ridiculous key outs: Caroline Graham Hansen, who has been spotted training on grass and might be in the mix for the Supercopa; Vicky Losada, in a similar spot; Kheira Hamraoui, with calf issues, who could possibly return next week; Aitana Bonmatí, who rolled her ankle a day before the game; and the long-term, Falcón, currently recovering from an ACL rupture. Regardless of that, they still managed to bring out a competitive 11; there were just no tried-and-tested alternatives on the bench. The next few league games might give Cortés the chance to try some of the youth players, as a way to introduce them into the team thinking of the long-team wellbeing of the starting 11. But in any case, this was far from a full-strength Barcelona team, and for that alone, they will probably not be all that unhappy with the result.
Knowing that they could have won the game, however, and what it would have meant (statistically and psychologically) would definitely annoy them though. And if they want to become a Wolfsburg-esque steamroller, they should be disappointed with this result, and use that to fire their pursuit of the next few weeks.
No one wins in a draw
Especially, no one wins in a draw that people can’t watch. We seriously don’t know what team comes up on top of this one, and they both will try to claim a positive result, whether realistically or not, much like unsuccessful politicians on election night. I don’t normally read the press reports on games, and just watch them myself to make up my own mind, but when these things happen, when a broadcasting corporation is trying to keep a league hostage because its two main clubs would not sell their broadcasting rights, we all lose.
I would finish this with a hopeful message, however it seems that a second strike date might be set soon because of the TV conflict, and meanwhile players are being let down by those who promised to fix the issue. People want to watch the women, stop this nonsense, please.