Pep pours praise on Atletico show

Coach Pep Guardiola admitted Barcelona were not at their best after

seeing their unbeaten Primera Division record ended by Atletico

Madrid.

Barca started the clash at the Vicente Calderon reasonably

well but soon found themselves under serious pressure, going 2-0

down inside 23 minutes as well as seeing midfielder Seydou Keita

limp off to join an already-lengthy list of absentees.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 27th-minute strike gave Barca some hope,

but the reigning champions could find no further in-roads during

the remainder of the match as Atletico belied their lowly league

position to stun the leaders.

Guardiola, whose side are now two points ahead of Real Madrid

at the summit, said: “My team didn’t play well, although you also

have to acknowledge the performance of our opponents.

“We’ve lacked the control that helps us play our game. We’ve

always been a team that ends up creating chances, and it’s been

harder than normal for us due to the great job that Atletico have

done.

“They’ve been very well organised and you have to

congratulate them on the victory. We weren’t sharp and we were

lacking in our play and in our passing.”

Guardiola also refused to blame his side’s defeat on the fact

they were missing so many players in defence.

Due to injuries and suspension, Guardiola was without the

services of Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, Dmitro Chygrynskiy, Rafa

Marquez, Gerard Pique and Yaya Toure, and ended up employing young

winger Jeffren at right-back.

The early loss of Keita was also a setback and he is set to

be out for four weeks with a hamstring problem.

“I don’t want to make excuses because of the injuries, as all

teams have absences during the the season. This is happening to us

now,” said Guardiola.

Atletico’s win was their third in succession against Barca in

the league and capped a fine week that also saw them progress

through to the final of the Copa del Rey.

There has not been many bright spots for the capital club

this season, but coach Quique Sanchez Flores was delighted with the

way his side played, and especially how they nullified the threat

of Barca’s all-star attack.

“I’m very pleased with my players. We were united and we

stopped the Catalan side from developing their usual play. We were

good in attack in the opening 45 minutes, but not so much in the

second half,” said Sanchez Flores, who singled out his side’s

defence for special praise.

“I wasn’t surprised by their performance. That backline has

been playing well in recent matches, but the team hasn’t been

winning.

“We’ve not made changes in those positions in order for them

to get to know each other better. I think that’s been fundamental

for them.”