Barcelona get back to winning ways against Atletico Madrid
Barcelona took a significant step in their chase for LaLiga title as they beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 at the Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday.
Ferran Torres scored the only goal late in the first half. The win put Barcelona 11 points ahead of Real Madrid who won their encounter against Celta Vigo.
Here are three observations from the match.
The returns of Frenkie de Jong and Pedri boosted the team
Frenkie de Jong and Pedri both made their returns after a rather long spell out due to injury.
The Dutch midfielder started the game and demonstrated why losing him perhaps hurt the most out of all their absences.
In a midfield three, he provided the cover necessary for the veteran Sergio Busquets and helped the team play from the back. His calmness allowed him to beat the Atletico Madrid press and carry the ball forward to lead the attack. It’s no debate the quality he possesses when compared to his replacements.
Pedri started the game on the bench but came on in the second half. Similar to De Jong, it was evident what he brings to this Barcelona side. His ability to guard the ball and play the right pass provided a creative outlet they’ve lacked even if things didn’t necessarily turn into a goal. His vision on the pitch is second to none on this team but Xavi needs to take things easy with him to avoid further injuries.
Their returns is a much needed breath of fresh air and will both be integral in this final stretch of the season.
Lewandowski’s form is now a cause for concern
Robert Lewandowski has not looked the same since coming back from the World Cup. His form has dipped significantly and the goals have stopped.
In recent games, he’s been dropping deep in order to receive the ball and trying to use some of his movement to open up space in order to get some service. While no one questions his hard work, it’s the finishing that has got people worried.
He’s taking one too many touches inside the box, allowing the defense the time necessary to close up a shooting angle. Against Atletico Madrid, he had that happen to him on a few occasions. But the most glaring issue now is he’s let his struggles cloud his judgment on the pitch.
There was no better indicator then when he through on goal with acres of space in front of the Atletico Madrid defense. With Jan Oblak forced to leave his area, there was an open net. Raphinha was accompanying him and would have had an easy tap-in had Lewandowski fed him the ball. Instead, the Polish striker went for goal, directing his shot well wide, leaving the Brazilian frustrated.
Of the front three, Lewandowski was the worst of the trio. Ferran Torres had the goal and Raphinha had another Man of the Match performance. Given his track record, Lewandowski finished the game but with his struggles, it shouldn’t be out of the question that some time on the bench could be in order. More than anything, to try to clear his mind.
Barcelona’s “bend but don’t break” defense once again on display.
Another 1-0 for Barcelona meant Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept another clean sheet, equaling the club record.
However, things could have gone differently had Antoine Griezmann’s shot in the first minute gone in after hitting the post. The chance came after Busquets was dispossessed in his own half.
Atletico Madrid had other moments of danger with Ter Stegen coming up big on a few occasions. But more often than not, the likes of Jules Koundé and Ronald Araújo snuffed out Atletico’s attacks with the Uruguayan further solidifying himself as the anchor of the Catalan defense.
Barcelona have only given up nine goals in LaLiga, ranking them as the best defense in the league. They have only given up two goals at home, in the league, this season. It’s why they’ve won so many games 1-0. They’ve been able to keep a clean sheet and make up for some of the failings up top.
If there is a weak point, it’s the drop off with Marcos Alonso and Eric Garcia who have been used in the absence of Andreas Christensen. The good news is Christensen could be back in time for the game against Real Betis on the weekend or their midweek clash against Osasuna.