In latest football news, FC Barcelona have registered a hard-fought victory over arch rivals Atletico Madrid with Joao Felix, the loanee from the Spanish capital being the difference-maker to the side, scoring the winner within the first half-hour.
With this victory, the defending champions set a bar high from Los Rojiblancos as they have reached the third spot, reducing their gap with second-placed Girona by four points, who are slated to play in their next game.
FC Barcelona versus Atletico Madrid- a clash of the ages
Barca and Atletico Madrid have always promised to live up to the expectations every they had locked horns, be it in the domestic circuit or on the European top flight. These two heavyweights from Spain have always been worth the hype, and last night was not an exception either, with both sides not leaving an inch for the other, vying for three points, which was most important at this stage.
Staged at the largest spectacle at Barca, Estadi Olimpic, with home support and cheers at the back for Barca players, the Catalans were bound to give their best, but injuries did force some strong calls on behalf of Xavi. But, on the positive side, the defending champions were able to make some necessary changes as some of their first-team stars were returning on the pitch.
With Xavi’s reputation at stake after some cynical performances over last few weeks, the former midfield metronome was slated to field his strongest eleven. He went with a 4-3-3 formation, with his strongest defensive set-up on the fore, comprising the seasoned Cancelo and Kounde on the flanks, with Araujo and Christensen shouldering the duties of guarding the goal. Midfield comprised the famous trinity of Pedri, Frenkie and Gundogan, with Lewandowski on the attack, marshalling the troops from the front, flanked by two of his trusted generals in the form of Raphinha and Felix, who would be facing his parent club for the first time this season.
As for ‘Cholo’ Simeone, he went with his 3-5-2 formation with former Barca attacker Griezmann and Morata shouldering the chances on the front, followed by youngster Riquelme on the midfield. He was assisted by Koke, Llorente and De Paul as the defensive duties were vested upon Hermoso, Gimenez and Molina.
An intense first-half
Few days before the game, Barca’s Portuguese attacker Joao Felix was under the question with his former teammates in the form of Saul and Griezmann criticizing him for leaving the club to play at Barca. Not only the players, even Atletico boss Enrique Cerezo was heard saying about Felix’s aspirations for the Catalans, as he mentioned that he had nothing but admiration for the attacker.
He hoped for his good game, but got himself off the hook by saying “hope he does not celebrate”. Maybe, that had fueled Felix’s adamant attitude to wreak havoc in front of the goal, as he has done in most occasions this season. The Portuguese did exactly what the great Shakespeare would have said “poetic” in his terms; score the winner against his parent club and engage in a harmonious celebration.
Felix got the game underway, but it was on the second minute that Raphinha almost got his name on the score sheet, as his one-two with Pedri was successful in foxing De Paul and Hermoso. He dragged the ball on return and shot from close range, but it went wide across the face of the goal, far from outstretched Oblak, hitting the far post.
Joao Felix scores- a sweet little ‘revenge’
With several shots on target and off target for both sides, the match was well poised for an intense finish. It was then when Joao Felix decided to become the hero of the game, going some extra mile on his game. It was always on the cards that Barca would draw the first blood owing to their attacking superiority over their opponents as they have missed some close finishes, which could have got fetched them more goals. But, better late than never, it seemed that Joao Felix was destined to shut his critics and opponent players after scoring the goal as he took the matter in his own hands.
Raphinha was instrumental in leading the charge, as he drifted inside from a speedy ball. His pass which was aimed at Joao Felix was hindered with a deflection, but the Portuguese showcased his class once again with his exuberant style, chipping the ball over onrushing Oblak, finding the back of the net, helping Barca with an all-important lead of 1-0. Thus, revenge was complete from the man who was deemed not good enough by Atleti in recent times in games like this, as Felix wielded his magic wand at Oblak with his foot. He later went on the side bar to celebrate his goal with the fans, aiming to shut his critics.
Inaki Pena- the unsung hero
Since Barca’s first choice custodian and captain Ter Stegen was on the sidelines since last few games owing to a freak injury which he faced during International Duty, Barca’s academy graduate and a long-standing second choice keeper for the club Inaki Pena was compelled to mark his territory under the goal.
He did look nervous in the first game against Rayo Vallecano, but soon amended his mistakes in the second game he stood under the sticks, against Porto in a crunch game. Last night, Pena produced a sublime performance, which included a superb flying save from a Memphis Depay free-kick on the dying minutes, showcasing his La Masia mentality, before coming up clutch once again on the 94th minute, thwarting away a shot from Correa, thus parrying away from danger.
With this win, Barca surpass Atletico to cement their position on the third spot, as it has strengthened their chances of defending their title. They face Girona next, the surprise package on the second spot, as a victory against them would see a lot more changes to their title defense.
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