Football Features

“He is not bound by the laws of our reality” – winners and losers as Barcelona beat Atleti to top La Liga

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:46, 1 December 2019

In a tight and tense night of football, Barcelona beat Atlético Madrid 0-1 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The match was supremely tense as two of Spain’s big three fought it out in the capital. Atleti had the better of it early on, but the Blaugrana grew into things and a magical Messi goal snatched it at the end. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Leo Messi

You know that one Arjen Robben goal that he scored a bunch and it became sort of a running joke? That “how does he keep on doing it” thing? Robben had 210 career goals so we did see his trademark a bunch of times so he made sense.

Leo Messi now has 614 career goals for Barcelona and has more than one signature goal that we have seen time and time again. Today we saw the classic one-two at the top of the box and the curving slapshot into the side of the net.

That’s an absurdly hard goal to pull off because you need to be able to bend the ball far enough away from goal that the keeper doesn’t dive straight away, but the shot has to be hit hard enough to bend back and hit the net before they’ve moved over.

So the goal is hard enough to pull off, but to do it against arguably the best goalkeeper in the world? In the 86th minute of a top-of-the-table title clash? At a ground you’ve never scored at before? With your team struggling in attack?

Look, he’s the best player in the world. He is not bound by the laws of our reality.

Loser: Diego Simeone

Cholo Simeone has twice dropped Barcelona out of the Champions League, in 2014 and 2016. But in La Liga the Argentine coach has never beaten them, if you can believe it. In 16 matches, he’s drawn five and lost 11. Only Marcelino has played Barcelona that many times without beating them. It’s an absurd run.

More absurd is Barcelona’s consistent late heroics away to Atlético Madrid. In their last four trips to Madrid to take on Simeone’s men, they’ve scored a tying goal or a winner after the 80th minute. Diego Simeone has consistently seen some incredible gameplans torn asunder at the last second by the Blaugrana, often by Messi, and today was no exception.

Atleti were the sharper side, the better side. Ter Stegen was much the busier goalkeeper than Oblak, yet in the end Barcelona won the game. He beat the Blaugrana, but yet again he couldn’t beat Messi and Ter Stegen.

Poor Cholo.

Winner: Marc-André Ter Stegen

As much as Messi played the starring role in the end, the best supporting actor in Barcelona’s big win was their German goalkeeper. Ter Stegen was monumental in the first-half, diving all around his goal to stifle an irrepressible Atlético Madrid. He made several key stops, with two standing out. First from a Mario Hermoso shot where he saved the shot with the inside of his standing leg; and later when Alvaro Morata headed low on target, Ter Stegen flew across goal to palm it up and away in Gordon Banks-style.

It’s amusing that Ter Stegen is rarely mentioned alongside Alisson and Jan Oblak, because one could argue he’s better than both in terms of his actual performances (with defensive stats being more about the team defence as a whole and needing defenders and midfielders to help).

Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.

Loser: Gerard Piqué

Gerard Piqué’s form this season has been pretty poor. He’s always started slow in seasons, but by the time November rolls around he hits his finest form (usually in time for El Clásico). But with a delayed Clásico never coming, Piqué’s form never really picked up. He has picked up a ridiculous 10 yellow cards in 17 games this season, including one tonight. He was lucky to avoid a second yellow, in fact, and just when it looked like he had finally gotten the touch of luck he might need to kick-start his season he had to leave the pitch with a knee injury.

Winner: Sergi Roberto

Sergi Roberto is not usually a great right-back for Barcelona. He’s good in attack but when it comes to defending, the Catalan routinely gets exposed. Still, injury has allowed Valverde to continue playing him at right-back (rather than the more talented Nelson Semedo) and today he repaid that faith with a truly sublime performance.

Roberto was a constant outlet in attack for the Blaugrana, linking well with Leo Messi and driving the ball forward – but more impressive than that was his defensive contribution. For once, Roberto was absolutely rock solid, much moreso than Gerard Piqué. He never got beaten down his flank, handling anyone Atleti threw his way, and his defensive interventions were sensational. He cleared a shot off the line and got stuck in supremely beyond that, really helping his side.

Loser: Real Madrid

Los Blancos started the day top of La Liga, three points ahead of Barcelona having played a game more (and one ahead of Sevilla having played a game less). They would have looked at this game and hoped that both title rivals could take points off each other. And for 85 minutes that’s exactly what was going to happen.

Atleti would have moved to 26 points and been five behind (having played one more) and Barcelona would be on 29 points, two points back having played the same amount of games. That means that Madrid could head into the upcoming Clásico and know that a draw would maintain their lead atop the table; that would be a huge advantage for Zinedine Zidane’s men – and then Leo Messi struck.

Instantly, Madrid were knocked off top spot (on goal difference) by Barcelona, and now it’s the Blaugrana who hold the edge. Los Blancos will have to really go for it in the Clásico now and that could open things up for Barcelona.