Football Features

“The War Machine roared back to life” – Winners and Losers as Atlético Madrid stifle and suffocate injury-hit Barcelona

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:33, 21 November 2020 | Updated: 9:35, 30 March 2021

In a brutal night of football, Atlético Madrid beat Barcelona 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano to go joint-top of La Liga.

Diego Simeone’s side were missing Luis Suárez but made light of that problem and ground out a devastating victory over Barcelona who ended the night with 10-men as Sergi Roberto had to go off injured after Ronald Koeman had used all his subs, one of which was to take off Gerard Piqué because of injury. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Diego Simeone

For the first time ever, Diego Simeone has beaten Barcelona in the league.

That may sound like an impossible thing given that Cholo has been in the league for damn near a decade, has lifted Atleti to genuine elite status and actually, y’know, won La Liga. But it’s true! Despite masterminding wins over them in the Spanish Supercup and the Champions League, he’s never been able to do more than draw in La Liga.

But now he’s done it, and he did so by returning Atleti to their defensive roots. None of the expansive play that we’ve seen recently; the War Machine roared back to life – they parked the bus and ripped forward on the break. They played superbly, rolling back the years and picking up a massive win that moves them up to joint-first as well as nine points ahead of Barcelona.

It’s the first time that Atlético have gone nine points ahead of Barcelona since January 1996, the season when they won the double with Diego Simeone as a player. Now, 14 years on, could Atleti’s former no. 14 deliver yet another double? Don’t bet against them; they look like genuine title winners.

Loser: Marc-André Ter Stegen

About one hour after the final whistle at Tottenham Stadium, where Ederson twice made a fool of himself rushing off his line and leaving Spurs strikers with simple finishes. Well Marc-André Ter Stegen is a lovely man, and a great team-mate, and obviously a fully paid-up member of the goalkeeper’s union because the first chance he got to humiliate himself even more than Ederson did, he took it.

With the first-half seconds from ending, Gerard Piqué’s risky press to recover the ball high-up had only partly worked. He made the initial interception but lost possession, and then the ball got played in behind the defence to Yannick Carrasco.

Now Clement Lenglet was in close attendance to the Belgian. He’d have to move some to get across but some smart co-ordinated movement between he and Ter Stegen should shut Yannick Carrasco out. But no, Ter Stegen had come streaming over and lunged at Carrasco, allowing the Belgian the split-second he needed to nutmeg the goalkeeper and then finish easily into an empty net.

The goalkeeper’s union is definitely real.

Winner: Yannick Carrasco

As much as Ter Stegen needs to be criticised for his ludicrous decision-making, Yannick Carrasco needs to be praised. The Belgian won two penalties when the teams last met and today he was just as impactful on the game.

Obviously he scored the goal after a great bit of skill, but defensively he was a workhorse. The Belgian constantly tracked Ousmane Dembélé back into defence, helping Mario Hermoso to defend the fantastic Frenchman.

But he also nutmegged the goalkeeper with the outside of his foot to score from 40 yards out. What an outrageous bit of skill, what an outrageous player, what a monumental moment of magic to take his side top of the league.

Loser: Gerard Piqué

This season we’ve already seen one titanic team-shaping defender get injured when Virgil van Dijk went down for Liverpool. We’ve also seen one superstar critical to the prosperity of FC Barcelona get injured when Ansu Fati hurt his knee.

Now we’ve seen a combination of the two as a titanic team-shaping defender who is critical to the prosperity of FC Barcelona has gone down injured. It was early in the first-half when Jordi Alba needlessly tackled Angel Correa from behind, causing him to fall forward into Gerard Piqué’s knee, causing it to buckle.

The defender was down in pain for a while before limping off the pitch in tears. Obviously a scan needs to happen for an official verdict, but it didn’t look good at all and given Piqué’s age, could be a career threatening injury. It would be a sad way for a truly great player to go out, but it does sum up this season so far.

Winner: Mario Hermoso

The former Espanyol defender hasn’t always looked the most solid presence in defence for Atleti, nor for Spain, but today he put in a spectacular shift as a hybrid left-back/left-centre-back. Hermoso was, along with Yannick Carrasco, responsible for shutting down Ousmane Dembélé, which he just about managed to do.

Loser: Barcelona

That’s Barcelona’s third league defeat of the season. They are now nine points behind Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad atop the league table, albeit they have a game in-hand against La Real. Ronald Koeman’s era has gotten off to a miserable start and with the injuries they’ve suffered so far they have a real fight on their hands to finish top four and secure Champions League football next season.