In an incredible night of football, Barcelona beat Atlético Madrid 2-0 at the Camp Nou.
The win sends Barcelona 11 points clear at the top with just seven games left to play. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Luis Suárez
Luis Suárez has delivered two terrible performances in a row against Villarreal and Atlético Madrid. He’s looked sluggish and sloppy with the ball and his usually bright attacking play has been non-existent. He’s looked every inch the rapidly declining no. 9 he actually is.
But he’s also scored two enormous late goals, two stunning strikes, to secure the points for Barcelona. His left-foot volley against Villarreal with the very last kick of the game at Madrigal ensured the Blaugrana didn’t lose, and then tonight, with all the chips down and the pressure mounting for Barcelona to find a breakthrough in a top-of-the-table clash against Atlético Madrid… a hero was needed.
So up stepped Suárez, receiving a class pass from Jordi Alba he stepped away from the ball, creating a yard of space for himself before striking the ball with such devilish swerve that it could have broken into a perfect near-earth orbit if it wasn’t deliberately kept low to the ground, so low that the colossal Jan Oblak couldn’t get to it at full-stretch. A world-class goal from a world-class striker that simply will not go gentle into that good night.
The amount of faith Ernesto Valverde places in Philippe Coutinho is admirable. The coach is determined to make the club’s record signing work, yet the Brazilian seems uninterested in complying. Well, that’s not fair, he’s definitely interested but something is lacking. Is it mentality? He looks overawed by the situation. Is it physicality? He dropped off hugely after the first 30 minutes. It’s probably both.
Coutinho started well enough but with half an hour gone his incredible dribble to escape the Atleti defence but when facing Oblak 1v1, he shot the ball far too close to Jan Oblak, allowing the big Slovenian to save. Then in the dying moments of the first-half a superb Suárez cross found him at the back-post but he headed the ball so poorly and allowed Jan Oblak to once again make the save. It’s no coincidence that Barcelona won the match once the Brazilian had been taken off.
Winner: Gerard Piqué
All the praise will go to Luis Suárez and Leo Messi, and rightly so they were the goalscorers and match-winners, but the man who provided them with a platform to perform and denied Atleti a clean look at goal (bar one set-piece) was Gerard Piqué.
The big Catalan defender was absent midweek as Barcelona conceded four goals away to Villarreal. Tonight he came in and instantly stabilised the defence. His effect was supreme, and instantly his organisational skills had the Blaugrana looking far more stable.
Marc-André Ter Stegen had a relatively quiet night, even when Atleti had 11 men. That was down to Piqué who expertly shut down countless Atleti attacks despite playing at least 40 yards from his own goal at all times and dealing with a revolving door of forwards, each of whom presented a unique threat, from Diego Costa to Angel Correa to Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata. Yet he handled them all. There is probably no more underrated player around right now than Piqué, who gets none of the credit and all the criticism. A titanic defender.
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Loser: Diego Costa
If you’ve managed to make it to 30 minutes played at the Camp Nou and your side is matching wits with Barcelona, it probably means you’re in with a chance of getting something. And if the match is a must-win clash for your team in a title race then it really would behoove you to do nothing that could risk ruining your team’s gameplan.
Like, for instance, racing after the referee and insulting his mother. Which unfortunately for Atlético Madrid is exactly what Diego Costa did. He was put into the XI despite barely playing lately because Costa’s physical forward play was crucial to Diego Simeone’s gameplan of unsettling Barcelona, and his sending off was a mini-catastrophe for Atleti.
The fact that Atleti managed to compete even with 10 men makes Costa’s red card even worse. Had he stayed on the pitch then there is no doubt that Atlético Madrid would have been able to compete for the entire match and maybe they could have even snatched a win with their big muscular striker still on the field.
Winner: Diego Simeone
This was incredible from El Cholo. A coach obsessed with defence, on the one hand Atleti’s defence wouldn’t be anything like it would be without Simeone’s system, but then the Argentine coach’s over-reliance on that defence so often damns his side to defeat e.g. the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, or their recent round of 16 loss to Juventus.
Atleti start games defensively, happy to let the opponent attack them for 90 minutes. This invites too much pressure and Atleti can often buckle. However today at the Camp Nou, Simeone’s side were spectacular. Not only did they defend superbly as one would expect, but they attacked with gusto too. They committed bodies forward. When Diego Costa was sent off, Simeone subbed off his right-back to bring on Angel Correa to retain two strikers on the field. And then later when he brought on Alvaro Morata, he did so for Filipe Luis.
Two strikers, two midfielders at full-back, and Atlético Madrid committing wholeheartedly to try and get the win. This was an amazing performance from Atleti who competed like thunder for 85 minutes despite only having 10 men. It took a moment of pure genius to break them down in the end, and even though Simeone leaves tonight as a loser he can at least do so with his head held high. If Atleti start approaching all big games with this kind of attitude, they’ll win more trophies.
Loser: Manchester United
Oh boy. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan were in attendance tonight to watch this match and for most of the night they would have been interested to see how Atleti stifled and stopped Barcelona.
In a way he could have taken heart from how Atleti were able to stifle the Blaugrana but then one has to recall that Atlético Madrid have José Giménez and Diego Godín at centre-back and United have Chris Smalling.
Ok let’s see what you’ve got then ?⚽️ pic.twitter.com/yUjE4BIDPz
— Mike Phelan (@Mike_Phelan_1) April 6, 2019
The Blaugrana weren’t at their best and playing one of the best defences in the world with a goalkeeper playing out of his mind, yet they still found a way to score not one but two world-class goals and get a huge win. Can United put up a defensive performance as organised as that? Do they have defenders like Godín and Giménez? Do they have players like Saúl and Rodri? The clear answer is no. Moreover Costa’s red card meant that Barcelona weren’t stretched as much as they could have been over the 90 minutes tonight.
Obviously United won’t give up, and with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford anything could happen, but looking the other way at their form and capability of their opponents, things are pretty ominous for Manchester United.