Barcelona have failed to reach the Champions League semifinals for the first time since all the way back in the long-ago time of 2007 (that's pre-Pep Guardiola). For the fifth time this season, they were unable to outscore Atletico Madrid, resulting in a 2-1 aggregate loss to their La Liga rivals in the Champions League quarterfinals. And for the fifth time this season, Lionel Messi was unable to score against Atletico, maintaining their season-long clean sheet against him.
Atletico manager Diego Simeone's habit of wearing all black suddenly seems all the more appropriate.
Though Barca beat Atletico to the Spanish Super Cup on away goals early this season, a goal from Koke in the 5th minute of Wednesday's Champions League second leg ensured Barca's unusually early exit from the competition.
Atletico have now held Barca scoreless three of the five times they've met this season. You might chalk this up to Barcelona being off their game under another new manager and with a variety of off-field distractions this season, but they are still the top scoring side in La Liga. First-place Atletico, however, have conceded the fewest goals, helping them to a one-point advantage over Barca in the domestic campaign.
Similarly, Messi's injury plagued season can't be entirely to blame for his inability to score on Los Rojiblancos. Despite his ailments, he's still averaging more than a goal per match this season, so for one team to hold him scoreless in five appearances is nothing short of incredible.
A big reason for Atletico's success against Messi and everyone else on the planet is goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. At 6'6", the 21-year-old on loan from Chelsea stands nearly a foot taller than Messi and with his combination of size and freakish skill, he's been able to reduce the four-time Ballon d'Or winner to a petite annoyance who forces him handle the ball every so often.
Though Atletico's European fairy tale continues and Barca are left with one more headache to endure in a season of migraines, these two aren't done with each other just yet. On the final day of the season, they will play for the last time, possible with the Spanish title on the line. Messi will have his chance at revenge and Simeone will at least dress the part of Barca's Grim Reaper.
UPDATE | Atletico has turned into Messi's most fearsome opponent pic.twitter.com/gVvLy6avdj— MESSISTATS (@MessiStats) April 9, 2014
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