Barca’s loan star Felix makes Atletico pay
Joao Felix’s superb dinked finish earned Barcelona a vital 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday in the La Liga title race.
The Portuguese forward, on loan from Atletico Madrid, made no secret of his desire to leave the Spanish city this summer, and he made his original club pay at the Olympic Stadium.
Some Atletico players criticized Felix ahead of the game, and Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez told him to take their words as motivation, which he did.
With the goal, Barcelona reclaimed third place from Atletico, trailing leaders Real Madrid and second-place Girona by four points.
Atletico have not won away against the champions in La Liga since 2006, a record that has now lasted 18 games, but they came into this game believing that now was the time to break that skid.
Barcelona has struggled for form and confidence since falling to Real Madrid in the Clasico at the end of October.
Despite being outplayed, they won narrowly against Real Sociedad and Alaves, lost to Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe, and then drew with Rayo Vallecano.
With their win over Porto earlier this week, Barcelona returned to the Champions League last 16 and Xavi’s statements were vindicated by a strong first-half performance.
Barcelona dominated from the opening, with Raphinha rushing forward and dragging a shot wide, and Mario Hermoso blocking Robert Lewandowski’s effort after Felix pressed hard to steal.
After 28 minutes, the Portuguese attacker broke the deadlock by riding Nahuel Molina’s challenge and then dinking the ball over Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Felix raised his arms in front of the enraged visiting fans, while Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone appeared displeased as he flashed up on the big screens.
The 24-year-old forward, who cost the club a club record 126 million euros ($137 million) in 2019, never settled in the city and did not gel with Simeone’s management or playing style.
– Retaliation -Perhaps not coincidentally, Axel Witsel was arrested shortly after for chopping Felix to the ground. Koke was also warned for staging a deceitful challenge against the rampaging Raphinha.
Felix came close to a second goal with a prodded effort from Ilkay Gundogan’s cut-back, but Oblak denied him this time.
As Hermoso stepped on his foot after the shot, the forward requested for a penalty, but his appeals were denied.
As Barcelona dominated the game, Gundogan shone in midfield alongside fit-again combo Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
Raphinha clipped the pst to get the Barcelona fans out of their seats at the opening of the second half.
Despite its high-calibre opponents, the attendance dropped short of 35,000 and was the club’s lowest this season, possibly due to the cooler winter evenings and the late kick-off.
While Felix was on target against his former club, Atletico talisman Antoine Griezmann worked hard but was unable to hit the back of the goal against his former club – he has not scored in 14 outings against Barcelona for Atletico.
Memphis Depay, another ex-Barcelona player, came closest for Atletico with a free-kick that was turned over by Inaki Pena, who was filling in for the injured Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Lewandowski should have sealed Barcelona’s victory, but he shot wide when in on goal.
The veteran striker has only three goals in his previous ten games for Barcelona in all competitions, but his inefficiency did not cost Xavi’s team this time.
Pena denied Angel Correa in stoppage time to keep Atletico fourth, three points behind Barcelona and seven points behind the top two.