2 Good Men
Flashes of cards and of brilliance as Suárez’s Barcelona edge Torres’ Atlético
Once upon a time, there was a mercurial forward who played for Liverpool. The forward, Fernando Torres, a Spanish scorer, arrived at that Merseyside club in 2007. He proceeded to score plenty of goals, help Liverpool get agonisingly close to glory and, also, prove to be maddeningly inconsistent from game to game. He left the club in 2011, and not long after, he found himself playing in Spain.
Once upon (another) time, there was another mercurial forward who played for Liverpool. The for ward, Luis Suárez, a Uruguayan scorer, arrived at the Merseyside club in 2011. He proceeded to score plenty of goals, help Liverpool get agonisingly close — really, really close — to glory and, also, prove to be maddeningly unpredictable in how he behaved on the field. He left the club in 2014, and not long after, he found himself playing in Spain. O n Tuesday, in a remarkable display of football as mini-biography, Torres and Suárez offered compressed career compilations during the Champions League quarterfinal first leg between Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. First, there was Torres, who managed to look lethargic, brilliant and foolish in the space of just 10 minutes as he slumbered into the game, scored the opening goal and then was sent off well before halftime for a second yellow card. Then there was Suárez, who appeared petulant, threatening, opportunistic, petulant (again) and lethal throughout the match — all while somehow avoiding a red card of his own — before scoring both of his team’s goals as Barcelona beat Atlético, 2-1, at Camp Nou.
The return leg is next week in Madrid, though Torres will not take part after he picked up yellow cards for two ill-advised fouls that left the German referee Felix Brych with little choice but to send him walking. English fans (of Liverpool, and Chelsea, too) will forever remember Torres’s fits of brilliance mixed with spells of invisibility, but his performance Tuesday was particularly bizarre:
Torres looks largely uninterested, failing to complete several passes and plodding around the field.
Torres runs on to a beautiful through pass from Koke and rif les a shot through the legs of Barcelona’s goalkeeper to give Atlético a surprise lead on the road.
Torres catches Neymar wit h his a r m, largely unnecessarily, and draws a yel
Torres plays a great pass to Antoine Griezmann that nearly results in a second Atlético goal.
Torres runs through the back of Sergio Busquets, who is facing his own goal at the time, and is given a second yellow card and ejected. His departure forces Atlético to play nearly an hour down a man. Di e g o Si meone, t he Atlético manager, was not especially subtle in defending Torres after the match — he hinted in his news conference that Brych had missed many other important decisions — but it was difficult to believe he didn’t understand why Torres was sent off. “I am not saying all that I could say,” Simeone said.
Regardless, Torres left early and the game tipped toward Barcelona. Many in the crowd were surely hoping for a different home star to score a meaningful goal; Lionel Messi arrived at the match with 499 career goals for club and country and nearly scored No. 500 with a brilliant overhead kick in the second half. But instead the fans saw a vintage Suárez p er for mance t hat showcased all of the striker’s risks and rewards.
No, there was no biting; Suárez has not trod that path since his third such incident, at the World Cup in Brazil, led to a lengthy suspension. But there were, all the same, f lashes of Suárez’s moodiness: he appeared to blatantly kick one Atlético player in the first half, and he put his hands on another in the second period with clear malice. On another night, with another referee, Suárez might have followed Torres up the tunnel early.
Instead, he stayed on the field and produced two important goals as Barcelona seeks to become the first club to win consecutive Champions League trophies. In the 63rd minute, Suárez diverted Jordi Alba’s blasted volley — which was going wide — into the net from close range, then raced after the ball and carried it back to the center circle in an effort to get the game restarted as quickly as possible. Nine minutes later, his teammate Dani A lve s c u rl e d in a sharp cross that Suárez headed power fully and straight, the ball flying past goalkeeper Jan Oblak and giving Barcelona a deserved victory.
Barcelona pushed for another goal — much of the second hal f resembled a one-sided practice drill, with everyone clustered in front of Atlético’s net — but Simeone’s players held firm as best they could. After Tuesday’s result, they need only win by 1-0 at home next week to advance on the away-goals rule.
That was why, at the final whistle, Barcelona’s players did not celebrate. They have the advantage, to be sure, but Atlético is far from beaten. Messi and Neymar pulled up at the final whistle, exhaling before slapping hands and heading toward the locker room. Suárez did the same, clapping toward the Barcelona fans along the way. Even a f ter 9 0 minutes, he looked primed and focused, as if already thinking about what he might do in the return. Torres, of course, need not bother.
No, there was no biting on Luis Suarez’s part. But there were, all the same, flashes of Suárez’s moodiness