In an eventful night of football, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid played out a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou.
The result cuts Real Madrid’s lead atop La Liga to one point but gives Los Blancos the chance to go four points clear on Thursday. It’s a disappointing performance and result for the Blaugrana, but what did we learn?
1. The shining light in Setién’s dysfunctional diamond
Quique Setién’s gameplan to break Atlético Madrid down was to switch formation and deploy a 4-1-2-1-2 aka a 4-4-2 diamond midfield. The side’s width came from full-backs Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba and in the middle… well there wasn’t really a prescribed shape beyond Sergio Busquets being at the base. The other three just sort of wandered around along with Leo Messi and Luis Suárez.
Basically, Barcelona had about 12% of a plan. It was barely a concept. The only bright spot in the system and indeed the game as a whole was Riqui Puig. The 20-year-old midfielder who has been crying out for more minutes has finally gotten his chance to start in a big game and proved why he is now absolutely essential to Barcelona’s future and present.
The Catalan simply knows how to play Barcelona style football. He links with Sergio Busquets so well, making him better at the base of midfield. And then he takes pressure off Leo Messi, providing a constant passing option for the Argentine as well as being such an exceptional footballer that Messi can trust him to be the playmaker.
Repeatedly against Atleti the ball would come from Messi to Riqui Puig and then he would be left to it. Messi didn’t chase him down and demand a return pass as he often does to players of lesser status. No, he would trust the youngster to make the right decision with the ball and 90% of the time he did just that. In a disappointing night of football for Barcelona as a whole, Riqui Puig was the shining light in Quique Setién’s dysfunctional diamond.
2. Carrasco the counter-king
Atlético Madrid’s attacking impact at the Camp Nou was more limited than Diego Simeone may have liked (given Barcelona’s current woes) but they still scored twice through penalties and both spot-kicks were won by the same man doing, essentially, the same thing.
Yannick Carrasco looked to be Atleti’s next big thing when he changed the game and scored Atleti’s equaliser in the 2016 Champions League final, but it never came to pass and he was sold to Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League. But in January he rejoined Atleti on loan.
And today he showed something like the immense level he promised back in 2016. Carrasco was a one-man counter-attack down the Atleti left. Simeone’s men could clear the ball into space ahead of him, or to his feet and let him run, and he would devastate the Blaugrana with his pace and ambition. He won the first penalty when a cutback drew a foul from Arturo Vidal and while the second spot-kick was a luck award (as he appeared to trip himself), the fact is he was running into space behind Nelson Semedo.
3. Lahoz gonna Lahoz, even through VAR
Mateu Lahoz is La Liga’s most notorious referee. A dyed-in-the-wool drama queen, he seems to love making it all about himself. Decisions come out of nowhere and make little sense except when you realise that Lahoz (seemingly) wants all the discussion to be about him.
When he was announced as the VAR official for the Camp Nou clash, no one could have expected that he would influence the game as much as he ended up doing. First he ordered Atleti re-take their first penalty because Ter Stegen was an inch off his line when the kick was taken, a rule that is almost never enforced.
Then later he confirmed the award of a soft penalty to Barcelona as Semedo fell down quite easily after being contacted by the defender. Then, after that, he confirmed Atleti’s second penalty, even though it was clear upon examination of slow-motion replays that Yannick Carrasco tripped himself up rather than being tripped by Semedo.
A Lahoz masterclass, even through the medium of VAR.
4. The tragedy of Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann is a world-class player.
Antoine Griezmann has been a disappointment for Barcelona.
Antoine Griezmann deserves more chances to find his rhythm in Blaugrana because he is that talented.
Antoine Griezmann didn’t enter the pitch in a decisive showdown against his former club until the game clock read 89:55.
Antoine Griezmann looked an incoherent mess in the few minutes of play he had, but who could expect anything else? Again, he was subbed on around 89:55. With four minutes added time he didn’t even get five minutes on the pitch. How could anyone look good in such a small cameo, let alone a striker who is quite evidently struggling for confidence? Setién said he didn’t bring him on because he didn’t want to “destabilize” the team which is a telling comment. That the coach doesn’t see Griezmann as a natural part of his side is incredible.
Antoine Griezmann looks lost, but we can’t be too surprised as Quique Setién has quite clearly stolen his map.
5. A fitting surrender of LaLiga
Real Madrid will win La Liga. Los Blancos were two points clear going into this matchday and this result cuts their lead to one point. When they beat Getafe, as you’d expect them to, they will extend their lead to four points. A two-game lead over the Blaugrana with just five matches left to play.
Barcelona began La Liga after the restart with a two-point lead atop the table. They have thrown that lead away and came into today with a two-point deficit. They did that thanks to some anaemic attacking performances that made them look older and slower than they even are.
So today’s performance was so fitting. Barcelona played with dominance, and were good, but they weren’t good enough. Nowhere near, in fact. It was all too easy for Atleti to defend the Blaugrana attacks which were focused either through the middle or predictable overlaps using the full-backs (which worked once to win a penalty and that’s about it).
They scored twice, but one was a penalty (coolly dispatched by Messi for his 700th career goal) and the other a lucky own goal. Jan Oblak was not besieged by shots and pressure as he has been in years past, and Barcelona were so bland that they never even managed the stereotypical final “great chance” for them to agonisingly miss. There was no Suárez skying it from 10 yards here. There was no nothing. The game just petered out, just like Barcelona’s title defence. They’re burning out and fading away.