Barcelona 100 percent winning record ends but Suarez saves point vs. Atleti
MADRID -- Three thoughts on Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw with Barcelona in La Liga.
1. Suarez strikes to save Barcelona
Luis Suarez's late header kept Barcelona comfortably top of the Liga table, although Ernesto Valverde's side lost their 100 percent winning record and, for long periods, did not look like potential champions against an Atletico Madrid side still settling into their new home.
Saul Niguez's superb, long-range strike midway through the first half seemed to have set Atletico on the way to a first famous win at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, but Suarez headed in substitute Sergi Roberto's cross to equalise with just eight minutes remaining.
The result means Barca remain in control of the early title race, with second-placed Real Madrid now five points behind following their 2-1 win at Getafe earlier on Saturday; Atletico are third, a further point back.
Barca almost had a dream start within 30 seconds, with Lionel Messi taking advantage of sleepy defending to sneak in for a shot that was deflected just wide. But Atletico soon got a grip and Antoine Griezmann had three chances, the best of which saw him nutmeg marker Gerard Pique only to be denied by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen's outstretched foot.
Even though Barca had more of the ball, it was not a huge surprise when the home side took the lead. An 18-pass move brought Simeone's side up the pitch, and, not for the first time in his short career, Saul seized the moment against a big rival by sending a sweet, low strike with his weaker right foot inside the far post.
After the break Atletico seemed closer to making it 2-0, with regular counter-attacks just breaking down. Barca remained dangerous, though, and went close when Messi hit the outside of the post with a 30-yard free kick. The home side continued to creak as the second half went on, and Suarez, having already been denied twice by Jan Oblak, rose to powerfully head home.
In the end a point apiece was probably a fair result, even if it left neither team overly happy.
2. Valverde has work to do
Barcelona came to the Wanda in great form under their new coach, but Saturday's display was not of a team that had gelled together already. Valverde stuck with a 4-4-2 formation but, for much of the game, was out-maneuvered by Simeone, who he not beaten in 12 career meetings.
Nominal wide men Andre Gomes and Andres Iniesta were a problem for Barca, in different ways. Gomes is not a right-winger and looks very short of confidence; even his own teammates seem to be in two minds over whether to pass him the ball.
Iniesta, meanwhile, was always drifting in from the left, which suited Atletico perfectly as they had packed the central areas. It left Messi taking on too much responsibility, and the Argentine forward was not at his sharpest having returned to Europe from his World Cup qualification-clinching heroics only late on Thursday.
On the hour Valverde's double substitution saw Iniesta withdrawn and winger Gerard Deulofeu sent on, while there were raised eyebrows when Gomes survived the third change. Roberto, who replaced Jose Semedo at right-back, made the difference with his pin-point ball for Suarez.
The new blaugrana boss could claim vindication that his changes had swung the game his way, although his side look far from the finished article.
3. No winning end to Atletico's big night
For a long time, the night was set to be about the Wanda Metropolitano coming alive for the first time in a big game. The atmosphere had been muted when Chelsea visited in the Champions League, which may have contributed to the Premier League side being able to nab a late winner.
The crowd was flying more Spanish flags than usual due to recent political events and the roar that greeted Saul's goal was deafening. When Atletico were on top early in the second half, there was a real feeling of enjoyment around the stands.
But the visitors slowly ground Atletico down, and Simeone's defensive substitutions didn't really help. Holding on to a one-goal lead and closing games down has been Atletico's forte throughout his time in charge, but they could not do it Saturday night and have still not beaten Barca in La Liga during the Argentine coach's six years on the bench.
It is inevitable that a team and its fans will take time to settle into a new stadium. The Wanda's shiny, modern surroundings don't yet intimidate opponents like the old creaking Calderon. And conceding late goals in both big games so far is not a great way to start.
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