After an undoubtedly entertaining 90+6 minutes of chaotic football, FC Barcelona came out as the victors from the clash against a resilient Atletico Madrid side. Coming out as 1-0 victors, this win takes FC Barcelona 3 points clear at the top of the table.
From the get-go, the intensity of this game had no question to it, both sides were gunning to win. The first 20 minutes or so of the game went smoothly and showcased rather impressive footballing ability from Barca’s perspective. Conjuring chance after chance for the attackers to capitalize upon, Pedri was at the heart of most of it.
The breakthrough came out of nowhere. A moment of pure Pedri magic saw him dribble past an array of Atletico players and cushion a pass to Gavi, who then shielded the ball well and laid it off to the right where Ousmane Dembele did not hesitate to strike a clean shot into the far bottom corner and give the Catalans a massive advantage.
Yet as the goal brought joy to those who don and support the Blaugrana garnet and blue, it brought an awakening to the red and whites of Madrid. Hungrier and more energetic, Diego Simeone’s men were unwilling in their pursuit of an equalizer and unwavering in their means to get it. Attack after the attack showed Atleti regain and reassess possession, and consistently attack Barcelona’s goal. At one point, it took a rather valiant save from Ter Stegen to keep Barcelona in the lead.
However, every cloud has its silver lining. While Atletico kept their attacks consistent, this brought into light arguably Barcelona’s best defensive lineup this season and how well they coped with this intense pressure. Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde, and Alejandro Balde all proved to be absolutely pivotal in ensuring the Blaugrana took away all 3 points.
Goal-line clearances, winning their aerial duels, smart positioning to intercept chances, quick recoveries, and mostly smart readings of the game, this backline along with Ter Stegen at the defensive helm behind them, ensured victory.
They compensated for the lackluster performance the forwards and midfielders started to waver towards as the game went along, and came out as worthy resilient opponents to Atleti’s very own resilient offense. There were multiple chances for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid both respectively to get more goals in, but thanks to both defensive interventions as well as a lack of a clinical touch, there weren’t any more to come.
Xavi ended up opting to play a system he has used seldom before, with four midfielders instead of the typical three. Using Gavi as a false winger initially and then simply deploying him as part of a 4-man midfield, the tactic showed its perks. However, it also ended up burdening Alejandro Balde a lot in terms of work rate, as he had to occupy both the left-back position as well as the left-wing spaces to compensate for the lack of natural attacking width in the formation.
On Diego Simeone’s end, he opted for a more reserved 4-4-2, changing his 3-5-2 system that he deployed in his side’s 2-0 win over Elche in their previous La Liga game. It acted as a good counter to Barcelona’s style of play and allowed Atleti to always have a number of players ready to close down spaces when Barcelona would be looking to progress the ball.
In the end, whereas it did wonders at time for Atletico, they ended up missing their handful of chances and were denied by Barcelona’s excellent defenders on other occasions.
Statistically, while FC Barcelona dominated possession with 59% of it to their name, they were eclipsed by Atletico Madrid when it came to other offensive stats. 20 shots by the Madrid team compared to only 10 by Barcelona, out of which 3 were on target by the visitors while the home side had 5 on target. Atletico also generated an xG of 1.42 compared to Barcelona’s mere 0.66, showing just how aggressively dominant the home side became during the course of the game.
With this massive victory and Real Madrid’s recent loss against Villarreal, FC Barcelona now sit atop the La Liga table with a 3-point gap from 2nd-placed Real Madrid, with the Catalans having accumulated 41 points in total now after 16 matchdays. The Catalans next travel to Saudi Arabia, where they face Real Betis in the Spanish Supercup on the 12th of January.