Barcelona fell further behind in the La Liga title race as Atletico Madrid twice came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou.
The stalemate many foreshadowed beforehand was swiftly dashed after Diego Costa deflected Lionel Messi’s inswinging corner into his own net after 11 minutes. Atletico had started brightly though, and they were rewarded with a quick equaliser from the penalty spot after Yannick Carrasco breezed past Gerard Pique down the left hand side before being tripped in the area by Arturo Vidal.
Diego Costa stepped up and saw his effort saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, only for the German to be penalised for moving of his line too soon. Saul Niguez then stepped up, and he coolly slotted home.
The hosts re-took the lead early on in the second period as Messi made the most of a soft penalty award- given for a foul on Nelson Semedo – to score his 700th career goal. Inevitably, he did in truly sensational fashion – sitting down Jan Oblak, regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, with a cheeky Panenka.
But Semedo switched from hero to villain in an instant as he clipped Carrasco in the area to gift Atletico another penalty, with Saul converting once more. An entertaining end to the contest ensued as both sides pushed for a winner, ultimately having to settle for a share of the spoils.
Key Talking Point
To date, Quique Setien had used both a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formation since succeeding Ernesto Valverde in the Barcelona hot seat. On this occasion, and under considerable pressure, he opted to shake things up, deploying a midfield diamond instead.
The result? Mixed success.
While Barça were able to overload the middle of the park, counter-press fiercely and combine effectively at times – spearheaded by the superb Riqui Puig – the flaws in this Barcelona side were still laid bare.
Their lack of threat in-behind allowed the visitors to squeeze higher up the pitch and reduce the space between the lines – although Puig dealt with this very well – while their lack of central compactness meant they were hopelessly exposed in defensive transition, like we saw against Celta at the weekend.
The eagerness of Semedo to create width in the attacking third meant Simeone’s side exploited the void down the right-back’s flank with ease. We saw it for the first goal with Pique being forced to cover more space due to the Portuguese’s ventures forward. Setien has to find a balance of creating a sustainable source of width without compromising the defence – of course, it’ll be a little more tricky in a narrow diamond.
Overall, however, this was a fine performance from the hosts against confident opposition, but it’s hard to envisage Setien’s side beating Real Madrid to the title with all the flaws in this poorly assembled squad.
Starting XI: Ter Stegen (6); Semedo (5), Pique (5), Lenglet (8), Alba (6); Busquets (7); Rakitic (6), Vidal (6); Puiq (8*); Messi (6), Suarez (5).
Subs: Roberto (6), Fati (6), Griezmann (N/A)
If there’s been a bright spark amid a pretty tumultuous time for the Catalans as of late, it’s Riqui Puig.
With his supreme ball-manipulation and capacity to wriggle out of tight spaces at a canter, Puig had no problems escaping the high volume of bodies in central areas – often retaining possession superbly.
He offered thrust in transition at times for a side that have proven inept on the counter, while his energy and tenacity proved key in Setien’s effective counter-press. It was a fantastic display from the young Spaniard, a showing which should leave Barcelona fans with a small bit of optimism despite their faltering title charge.
Key Talking Point
Fresh off the back of four victories on the bounce, it was refreshing to see an enterprising Atleti side rock up at Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Barça’s lack of a threat in behind allowed Diego Simeone to deploy a more aggressive defensive line and although they were typically compact throughout, they were also able to progress through the thirds efficiently.
There was minimal emphasis on the long ball up to Costa and instead, Simeone allowed greater scope for Atleti’s creators to have the ball at their feet. As a result, the visitors were able to pick Barça apart at times on the counter.
The result of the visitors’ more relaxed approach, if you will, was an entertaining, end-to-end contest which could’ve gone either way in the end.
Starting XI: Oblak (6); Arias (6), Gimenez (6), Felipe (6), Lodi (6); Correa (6), Partey (8), Saul (7), Carrasco (8*), Llorente (6), Costa (5).
Subs: Felix (6), Morata (6), Vitolo (N/A, Lemar (N/A)
In what was an exuberant Atleti display, Carrasco served as the protagonist.
Deployed on the left flank, the Belgian was the man to add thrust to the visitors’ transitions, with his directness causing Barça’s defence problems when he drifted in-field. His work to win Atleti’s first spot-kick of the night was simply majestic, while his burst of acceleration was enough to see Semedo accidentally clip the Belgian’s heel for their second.
And, of course, like any typical Simeone winger, he carried out his defensive duties astutely against a surging Semedo and floating Messi.
Next up, Barcelona face a tricky test away at Villarreal on Sunday before hosting Espanyol in the
Derbi Barceloní. Atletico, meanwhile, face lowly Mallorca and Celta Vigo in their next two encounters as they look to wrap up Champions League qualification for next season.