On the final matchday of the previous campaign at the same venue, Los Rojiblancos clinched their first La Liga title of the 22nd century, albeit controversially. Lionel Messi’s late winner was wrongly called off for a false offside. This goal would not only have won Tata Martino’s men the match but also extended their defence of the title by another year.
Coming into this match, tensions were rising within the Catalan capital. Manager Luis Enriqué and chief marksman Messi were in the middle of an internal feud, or supposedly so. This civil crisis resulted in Messi being benched in midweek, only for him to skip a training session for a sudden illness.
The two settled their differences in time and thanks to some tactical ingenuity from one party and world-class football from the other, Barcelona earned themselves a valuable three points in a memorable 3-1 home victory thanks to goals from Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar Jr.
Alves · Pique · Mascherano · Alba
Rakitic · Busquets · Iniesta
Messi · Suarez · Neymar
Juanfran · Godin · Gimenez · Gamez
Koke · Gabi · Tiago · Turan
Griezmann · Mandzukic
If Barcelona intended to take revenge on their visitors for the events of yesteryear, then they got off to the best possible start. The move was started off by none other than Lionel Messi. From the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Dani Alves, the 28-year-old manoeuvred his way through the grey wall and from just around the byline, he made a cutback to Luis Suárez.
The Uruguayan’s poor control got the ball into Neymar’s path, and with the goalmouth gaping wide, he tapped the ball safely into the back of the net to open the scoring. It was surely not the most aesthetically pleasing goal, but a goal they needed and a goal it was.
It was one of those days where everything the team did led back to Leo. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
With the tides now in their favour, the hosts asserted complete dominance over their rivals. From the right flank and with acres of space begging to be exploited, Neymar Jr drifted inwards and played a pass to his striking counterpart Suárez. El Pistolero then laid the ball on a plate for Jordi Alba, though to his dismay his low driven shot was taken care of by Miguel Moyá.
Barcelona were taking it in their stride and the football was in full flow. Despite playing on the right flank, a position that was not all that familiar to him in recent years, Messi still ran the show. On a counter-attack, the Argentine cut Atleti’s defence wide open and found Suárez alone near the final third. He skipped past José Giménez and played a sumptuous cross into the penalty box for Neymar, but despite having only the keeper to beat, his header went marginally wide off the mark.
One of the most prevalent themes in Luis Enrique’s Barcelona was patience in persistence, and here it paid off once more. Following a switch into Messi’s path on the centre of the pitch, his delicate control off his chest — or perhaps his upper arm — set him loose, granting him the necessary space to wreak havoc on the defending champions’ defence for the umpteenth time in the match.
He then lacerated their backline with a through ball and found Suárez, who needed only tap the ball into the back of the net to double their lead. Scruples were rising about his suitability in the system but his goal — and performance as a whole — cleared them all.
Suarez had started to find his feet at Barcelona, and boy would he last. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
The Blaugrana went into the break not only in the lead but also by far the superior side in the encounter. Atletico were second best in every aspect of the game, and they needed a much better second half to overcome this Barça side.
Half Time: Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid
Throughout the first half, Barça’s intricate passing was too much for the defending champions to handle, and the same script played itself out in the beginning second half.
Moyà had one of his toughest matches as a goalkeeper as he found himself on the wrong side of an avalanche of shots from Messi. He blocked one as the Argentine attempted to nutmeg him from the near post, he then had another curler go just marginally wide off the mark and from a shot completely atypical of the Argentine, he had his header miss the target too.
For all his wonderful efforts, Messi was unable to find the net early on in the second 45. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP)
Inspite of all the dominance they had imposed since the resumption of play, Barcelona found themselves on the back-foot just ten minutes into the second half. Throughout the first half, Messi had been nothing but a thorn in right back Jesús Gámez’ sight. With the roles reversed, the then four-time Ballon D’or winner conceded a penalty.
Mario Mandzukić stepped up to take the penalty, and a dejected Messi stared him down with his hands on his hips. Ninety thousand whistles sounded in an effort to intimidate the Croat, but he took one deep breath, gave Claudio Bravo the eyes and slotted the ball into the back of the net to halve the deficit.
The goal gave Atleti the breath of life they so desperately longed for. With the possibility of creating yet another upset on the horizon, Atleti flipped the game completely on its head. They had chances in quick succession from Mandzukić, Fernando Torres and Arda Turan, however none of them bore fruit.
In such dire circumstances, Barcelona were in desperate need of saving and perhaps only one person could save them. Having had one of his most dominant displays yet, all that remained for Lionel Messi to do was hit the back of the net. Suarez played a crossfield pass into the Argentine’s path at the edge of the box. He played a quick one-two with Iván Rakitić, found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and slot the ball into the back of the net to seal the three points.
The dawn of a spectacular era. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP)
What followed was quite an iconic celebration that, to this day brings chills down the spines of Culés everywhere. It was the birth of arguably the greatest attacking trio in the history of football.
Full Time: Barcelona 3-1 Atletico Madrid
3 takeaways from Barcelona 4-0 Osasuna
Barcelona returned to winning ways in the league as they humbled Osasuna 4-0 at the Camp Nou, leapfrogging from 14th to 7th in the La Liga table.
Barcelona hosted Osasuna after an impressive display against Dynamo Kyiv midweek. Having rested several players, Ronald Koeman selected arguably the strongest XI available to him for the early kick-off in La Liga against Osasuna. The midweek rest showed as Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong, who did not even travel to Ukraine, had excellent performances.
The team looked sharp, and there was a vast improvement in the overall performance compared to previous league games. Most notably, the attack was more fluid and combined better. There was plenty of neat one-touch exchanges between the forwards and better off the ball runs, courtesy of having a natural #9 in the team. The hard work paid off as all four starting forwards got their name on the scoresheet.
In midfield, Pedri partnered de Jong in the double pivot, and they controlled the game in the first half. Óscar Mingueza justified his inclusion again with a solid and composed performance alongside Clément Lenglet. However, the Frenchman went off injured after twisting his ankle in the second period. This leaves the Catalan side with a severe shortage of first-team centre-backs.
The Spanish giants managed to escape with a clean sheet as the visitors pushed for a goal. Marc-André ter Stegen was determined not to conceded and produced a couple of fantastic reflex saves. Barcelona will need him at his best in the upcoming fixtures, especially with such a depleted defence.
1. Attacking football returns to the Camp Nou
For years now the flowing attacking football associated with Barcelona has rarely been seen from the Blaugrana. Under Ernesto Valverde, the Catalan side were static, lacked pace and relied on captain Lionel Messi to produce something special. This continued under Quique Setién last season. For all his love of brave attacking football, Setién struggled to get his team to break down defences and Barça became too passive and reserved.
At the start of this campaign, Ronald Koeman seemed to have rectified this situation. Convincing wins in the opening two matches had Culés excited for the upcoming season. However, this level soon dropped off and, like with Valverde and Setién, Koeman struggled to find his best-attacking line-up.
Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann were at the helm of every attack by Barcelona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Against Osasuna, this changed as the home side outclassed their opponents. A rested Lionel Messi ran the show for Barcelona and opened the Los Rojillos defence. He scored a stunning solo goal too, beating several defenders and smashing a shot from outside the box passed the goalkeeper.
One of the other positives came from other players stepping up and deciding the match. Too often, the team has looked to Messi to produce something in every game. Antione Griezmann scored a sensational volley and also allowed Philippe an easy tap in. More performances like these from the Frenchman are needed as Griezmann looks like he is regaining some confidence.
“I’m happy with the team’s display and the goal that I scored today. We want to win the title, and we know very well that it is not easy.”Antoine Griezmann | Post-Game Presser
The chemistry between the front four was also a lot better on Sunday afternoon. They were all happy to interchange and combined well, making it difficult for defenders to close down the spaces. The importance of Martin Braithwaite as a striker should not be understated. He helped to create space, pin back the Osasuna centre-backs and made some brilliant off the ball runs. The Dane also took his goal well after the ball bounce around in the box – exactly what a striker should be there for.
2. Intelligent use of the squad depth from Koeman
For the second successive game, the manager rotated his team and gave some of the fringe players valuable minutes. Some of the rotations have come from injures, especially in defence. But, these changes, such as Óscar Mingueza and Sergiño Dest, who have replaced Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto, have proven their level. Even Junior Firpo, who made his season debut midweek and received his first minutes in La Liga on Sunday did not look out of place.
In midfield, Pedri, Sergio Busquets, Carles Aleñá, and Frenkie de Jong all featured in the double pivot at some point in the game. It is promising to see Aleñá featuring in back to back games for the first time in a while. He may have done enough to win Koeman’s trust, and the Dutchman should now have realised his quality and importance to the team.
Busquets returned to action for the first time in a month. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The front four have also been rotated and in the last two games, Barcelona have scored eight goals. Lionel Messi returned from rest and was at his brilliant best again. Martin Braithwaite won a place in the starting eleven after impressing in Ukraine and has scored in both games. Ousmane Dembélé and Francisco Trincão were sharp coming from the bench after being given more game time in recent weeks.
Rotating players is vital for any team that wants to win trophies. In these extremely long and intense seasons, filled with international breaks, midweek cup ties, league games every weekend and the UEFA Champions League, players cannot be expected to play every game and maintain their best levels. Having that squad depth and competition for places is essential as it stops players from getting fatigued and motivates them to earn their starting position every week.
3. Lionel Messi remembers Diego Maradona
Lionel Messi with a heart-felt tribute to the late Diego Maradona. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
The world of football lost one of its most iconic characters this week – Diego Armando Maradona. The Argentine is routinely considered as one of the greatest ever to play the beautiful game. Maradona was an incredible footballer and is known for his achievements with Napoli and the Argentine national team, in particular.
An often misunderstood and troubled character, the former Barcelona player was at his happiest on the pitch. Off the field, it seems the number 10 struggled with fame. He was hounded by the press and the fanatical supporters constantly, which all got too much for the genius. As Maradona tried to leave this overwhelming environment in Naples, he was held hostage at the club. This clearly affected him as his issues off the field began to escalate.
In the Diego Maradona documentary, his former trainer states that he saw two sides to the player. He explains there was Diego and there was Maradona. Diego was the kind, caring one that wanted to buy a house for his parents to live in. Maradona was the invincible act he took on that never showed any weakness.
When his trainer said this to the Argentine, he replied stating that he knew this, but without Maradona, he would still be living in the shantytown in Villa Fiorito where he grew up.
Maradona had a lot of respect for Lionel Messi, and the two were relatively close. They were often compared due to their style of play and their smaller stature. In tribute to his compatriot passing away, Lionel Messi celebrated his goal by revealing a Newell’s old boys top underneath his Barça shirt. It was a heartfelt gesture to his former mentor and friend.