Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid – After 90 minutes of physical, tetchy football, which at times was even a testing watch the most enthusiastic of La Liga aficionados, Barcelona remained above their opponents Atletico Madrid by one point, and Diego Simeone’s search for a first league win over La Blaugrana continued.
There was late drama, and it seemed rather fitting that it was to be Ousmane Dembele who ‘arrived late’ to save an underwhelming Barcelona from impending defeat. “Dembele wins forgiveness” was Diario AS’s headline on Sunday morning as the Frenchman silenced his critics with another decisive goal after coming off the substitutes bench. “Dembele on time!” ran Mundo Deportivo.
Given the nature of the game, which had plenty of intensity but little in the way of free-flowing attacking football as neither side managing an attempt at goal in the entire first half, it was easy to get swept up by the saving grace which Dembele offered. Atletico took the lead with just over 10 minutes to play when Diego Costa scored his first goal in 18 matches, but admittedly it was scarcely deserved.
Dembele’s 90th minute goal saved Barcelona blushes, and kept them at the top of the table, but it was a match that they did not deserve to lose. It was evident that they struggled to break down a stubborn Atletico side that closed down the space efficiently and effectively. A draw was not a bad result for either and at times during the first half it did appear that they had shaken on that prior to the game.
Such big title matches should contain ambition and attacking quality. This one, however, came short on both counts. In part that was due to Atletico’s well structured approach to limiting Barcelona space by setting up with a low block, but the visitors showed little desire to truly test their opponents’ mettle. To say there were 75 minutes of nothingness would be rather crass but, in truth, not far off the mark. And that is why the headlines were stolen by Dembele.
Since arriving at Barcelona last summer, his time in Cataluña has been mixed to say the least. Suffering a thigh muscle rupture in one of his first games for the club meant that he missed almost half of last season. Since coming back he has had both his attitude and ability questioned.
What Dembele does not lack is a good sense of timing, on the pitch at least. Some of his teammates have let it be known that he does have a tendency of arriving late for training. His goals this season – of which there have been five in total in the league – have been vital to Barcelona’s start to the season. La Blaugrana have not been firing on all cylinders so far, and have looked sluggish and reactive on occasions, but they have been doing enough to stay above the rest.
Against Huesca, Real Sociedad, Rayo Vallecano and now Atletico, Dembele’s goals have saved Barcelona from losing positions. It all began on matchday one when Dembele scored the single goal in a 1-0 win on the shoddy pitch against Valladolid. Since then his timing of goals has been impeccable. No other player has won more points with his goals than the Frenchman in La Liga this season: seven points with five goals. He should really start being known as The Rescuer.
It must be remembered that Dembele is only 21 years old and occasional indiscipline is to be expected. The pros are clearly outweighing the cons. “Dembele is a great player,” Ernesto Valverde said after the match. “He has so many things, including goals.” Dembele has epitomised Barcelona this season, relying on acts from individuals to often save them from difficult situations. The style and substance of their play has diminished since last season. They are underwhelming and the reasons for that are numerous.
Dembele himself is still not quite on the same wavelength with the rest of his team-mates. Nor is he quite in tune with the team’s style of play – hence Valverde’s reluctance to use him from the start – but his contributions speak for themselves. Taking what would have been one of Simeone’s most treasured results as Los Rojiblancos head coach away from him in the dying embers ensured that the league standings remained unchanged.
“Four minutes” laughed Simeone as he was asked about how close he came to the elusive first win, but despite the work rate of his players, it was hard to make an argument for either side to have taken the three points. It is true that the first half passed without notable incident. The first real opening came in the 60th minute as Antoine Griezmann wriggled away from Arthur before pulling the ball back in search of Costa. Gerard Pique was alert to the danger though, getting a crucial foot to the ball ahead of the Atletico striker.
Costa did get his goal having searched for one almost as long as Simeone had searched for the win. He rose above Rafinha at the far post to head Griezmann’s corner past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It looked like it was to be for Simeone and his players. The game that Sergio Busquets labeled as “not fun” did however see some light relief for the visitors as Dembele came on and saved Barcelona from defeat once again.
Los Otros Puntos
Ultimately Barcelona’s dropped points opened the door to Sevilla who accepted with open arms. Their one goal win over Valladolid sent them top of the table on Sunday. Andre Silva’s header from a Pablo Sarabia cross on the half hour mark proved enough to overcome rather weak opposition. Pablo Machin was proud that his side had returned to the top of the table: “We are going to enjoy these moments. There will be others in which we will have to be together and appreciate where we are now. This helps for when there are tougher times.”
“Real Madrid are the black beast of Eibar: seven wins and one draw” was Diario AS’s headline on Saturday morning. Now one defeat can be added to that. Some may also say that Madrid are now the laughing stock of Eibar, such was the humiliating yet fully deserved 3-0 defeat that the Basques inflicted on their opponents. The greatest result in Eibar’s history came on the day that highly-respected coach Jose Luis Mendilibar managed his 182nd game at the club (a record). “Madrid out of control” stated Mundo Deportivo whilst AS lamented a “Total loss”; naturally the focus is on Real Madrid losing but it should really be on Eibar winning. Their journey over recent years is the most remarkable in world football, and it is a shame more people do not know about it.
Thank you president ? pic.twitter.com/yImuBx7EBu
— SD Eibar English (@SDEibarEN) November 24, 2018
A 100 per cent home record against an unbeaten away record, something had to give in the Catalan derby between Espanyol and Girona, and it did. Girona won 3-1.
The La Liga graphics department were so shocked that Huesca had scored twice in a match – the first time in 10 league matches – that they awarded it to Levante. Unfortunately for Huesca, their opponents scored twice too – albeit in controversial circumstances.
Leganes 1-0 Alaves
Eibar 3-0 Real Madrid
Valencia 3-0 Rayo Vallecano
Huesca 2-2 Levante
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Getafe
Sevilla 1-0 Valladolid
Espanyol 1-3 Girona
Villarreal 2-1 Real Betis
Real Sociedad – Celta Vigo to be played on Monday
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the new magazine from totalfootballanalysis.com – 118 pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy today for just £4.99 here!