Barcelona and Atlético Madrid faced off in a crucial game between third and fourth as they both looked to reduce the gap to Real Madrid and Girona at the top of the table. The talk leading up to the game rightly centred around João Félix as he prepared to play against his parent club. The 24-year-old had been criticised by former teammates for his performances during his time at the club and it is certainly no secret that there is no love lost between the player and Atlético coach Diego Simeone, whose style of football has been strongly criticised by the Portuguese man.
The two teams went into the game with very different outlooks; Barcelona have not been their best, and manager Xavi has come under criticism for recent performances, while Atlético have been impressive and free-flowing.
However, it was Barcelona who started much the better side. Raphina missed a glorious chance early on as he impressively wriggled through the defence only to shoot wide. Robert Lewandowski then went on to miss two fantastic chances as Barcelona’s goal-scoring problems looked set to continue. The home side continued to dominate in what was their most impressive performance so far this season, with Atlético unable to lay a glove on the Catalan side.
The home side eventually went ahead with a goal from no other than Félix. There were questions over whether the forward who is on loan from Atlético would celebrate, but he was certainly living it up after an impressive chip over Jan Oblak. Barcelona continued to dominate the first half, and the away side were lucky to get to the break with just a one-goal deficit.
Simeone immediately changed things for the second half, making three changes as they tried to get themselves back into the game. The substitutions certainly made them more competitive in a rather scrappy second half where no team had a hold over the game. It was a half of few chances; Raphina saw his shot ricochet off the post. Atlético came closest with a late Depay free-kick, who came on for the ineffective Alvaro Morata. However, Barcelona keeper Iñaki Peña made an impressive save, diverting the ball onto the post to keep the game at one nil. Barcelona had to withhold a nervy few minutes but, in the end, secured the three points to move them within four points of the top two in a performance that will have made both Xavi and the fans happy.
Atlético, conversely, will be upset with what was a rather lackluster performance as they miss the chance to close the gap on Real Madrid and Girona, over whom they also have a game in hand.
GSFN | Finn Entwistle