Barcelona and Atletico Madrid locked horns in a critical fixture late on Sunday night. The clash was significant from a league-standing standpoint, for the two teams were tied on points ahead of kickoff.
Xavi Hernandez deployed his strongest available XI on the big night, beginning with Inaki Pena in goal. Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen started as the team’s two centre-backs while Jules Kounde and Joao Cancelo covered at right and left-back respectively.
In midfield, Barcelona had Pedri Gonzalez, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan pulling the strings while Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Joao Felix completed the lineup.
The game at Estadi Olimpic de Lluis Companys kicked off late on the night with Barcelona getting the ceremonial first touch at home. Despite their recent rut, however, the Catalans looked inspired from the get-go last night and dished out an attack-centred performance.
Their first big chance of the game came less than a minute into the game when Pedri played Raphinha into space. The Brazilian neatly worked his way past the Rojiblanco defence and found himself in space but his finish was awry. Less than two minutes later, the youngster played Lewandowski into a promising position but to no avail.
Atletico Madrid had a big chance in the fifth minute of the game as the high tempo continued. Ronald Araujo’s clearance off the line kept the hosts in the game.
The opening period that followed saw Xavi’s men create chances in abundance. Raphinha’s cross set up Lewy for a simple header in the box, albeit later wasted, before the Pole once again let a big chance slip in the 12th minute.
As the minutes passed, the visitors’ presence in the game was largely limited to their area. Barcelona’s incessant attacks kept them at bay, and it was only fitting that Joao Felix led most of the team’s attacking manoeuvres.
The Blaugranas‘ opening goal eventually arrived in the 26th minute, and oh how poetic the moment was. It had to be Joao Felix who scored against his former employers before proudly celebrating the same in front of his former teammates. Notably, Felix is still an Atletico Madrid player by contract.
The youngster was set up by Raphinha’s smart ball through the lines before reflexly chipping the ball over the goalkeeper to find the back of the net.
Atleti attempted to up the ante after going down on the night and did create some moments of threat themselves. Former Barcelona star Antoine Griezmann came close to scoring in the 33rd and 35th minutes but was overpowered by the Catalan defence.
Moments before the half-time whistle, Felix once again found himself at the right place at the right time. His shot, however, was easily saved by Jan Oblak.
Heading into the half-time break, Barcelona could not be more proud of their display. They were the better side by far, and the 1-0 lead could well have been greater on another night.
The Colchoneros began the second half far more inspired with Diego Simeone making as many as three changes after half-time. They created regular openings, although none good enough to perforate the Catalan defence.
Raphinha painfully hit the post in the 58th minute with a thunderous long-range strike. At the other end, Griezmann’s shot hit the side netting.
Gundogan’s brilliant ball over the top found Kounde in space to either take a shot or lay the ball off across the face of the goal in the 73rd minute. He, however, managed neither.
Xavi brought on Lamine Yamal and Ferran Torres for Joao Felix and Raphinha in the 77th minute.
Atletico Madrid were awarded an inexistent free-kick in the 79th minute, and Memphis Depay’s strike was well placed on target. Inaki Pena made a sensational save to keep his side in the game.
Lewy had a wonderful chance on the break in the 85th minute but his shot was placed wide of the target. Yet, it was Barcelona who were under heavy pressure in the final ten minutes.
Fermin Lopez came on for Pedri with two minutes remaining on the clock.
The game eventually ended 1-0 in the Blaugranas‘ favour, but only after a sensational Inaki Pena save. The result takes them three points clear of Los Rojiblancos, albeit temporarily for Simeone’s side have a game in hand. Nevertheless, the result is a big mental boost for Xavi’s men at the perfect time.