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4 talking points from Barcelona 1-0 Atlético Madrid

The least surprising candidate stole the headlines.

FC Barcelona v Atletico de Madrid: LaLiga Photo by Adria Puig/Anadolu via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid let down Colchoneros far and wide as they struggled to a 1-0 defeat against a clinical FC Barcelona team that won courtesy of a João Félix strike in the first half — three points that distance Atlético from the title.

The decisive moment of the game arrived on 28 minutes, as Raphinha passed into João. The loanee escaped Nahuel Molina’s poor attempt to intercept and duly chipped over Jan Oblak to give the home team the lead. He didn’t hold back in celebrating, either — you've surely seen the photo by this point.

Here are four of the main talking points from the game.

1. An opportunity missed.

Atlético Madrid were not outplayed at any time in this game. Far from it. In fact, the final moments were spent with Barcelona fans sat on the edge of their seats and biting their finger nails.

Once again, this game felt like it could have been won, with both teams on a level playing field and Atlético in better form. But Xavi out-Cholo-ed Cholo himself.

Barcelona were without their first-choice goalkeeper Marc-André Ter Stegen, and came into this game off the back of a run which saw them go behind in four consecutive games, picking up a defeat, a draw and two wins. Xavi’s side have most certainly looked vulnerable, while Atlético have been in rampant form with 13 goals scored and only two conceded in their previous four, all ending in victory.

FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Jan Oblak said post-match, Atleti simply never got going after the first ball was kicked.

“We didn’t show up in the first half,” he reflected. “It was like we weren’t there. I don’t know what happened to us. There was fear, I don’t know what. We had the worst first half this year.”

After the fighting spirit on show in The Netherlands in midweek, a very similar line-up looked tired, exhausted and unable to compete. There was no better example than in the midfield. Koke was overrun in the holding role, and as the team’s main outlet that stifled everything Atleti wanted to do in possession. Marcos Llorente was tireless but struggled to create much, while Rodrigo de Paul was muted. We’ve seen how effective they can be, but none of the trio were at their best or were able to dominate the middle of the park.

2. What was Ángel Correa doing at right-back?

Diego Simeone made three changes at the break, which was a remarkable recognition of quite how wrong things had gone in the first 45 minutes of action. Ángel Correa, César Azpilicueta and Samuel Lino were brought in, replacing a tired Rodrigo Riquelme, Josema Giménez and Nahuel Molina. They weren’t like-for-like changes, with Lino replacing Riquelme on the left, Azpilicueta switching between the right and defence (later playing as a wide left-sided center-back), and Correa switching between the right and interior.

The pick of the bunch, standing out primarily for the wrong reasons, was Correa. On paper, the change made sense. He could add some energy and an outlet, his pace and dribbling being key in the transition, and help to exploit Barcelona’s left side of defence. Instead, he registered only 28 touches, and his only highlight was Atléti o’s best chance at 0.12 xG, which he fired straight at Iñaki Peña.

This season has been a poor one by Correa’s standards. Granted, he has scored more LaLiga goals than João Félix, but he has not had minutes or continuity at any time and is falling down the pecking order. Since his brace against Cádiz on October 1, he has not scored and his only real performance of note was the 6-0 thrashing of Celtic, where everyone on the field looked good.

It also speaks volumes about Molina. The Argentine has been in concerning form for a while, and that pattern continued with a poor 67% passing accuracy, two duels lost and one dribble past, in addition to failing to cut out the simple pass which allowed Barcelona to take the lead. Molina may need a rest, and he certainly needs competition, while Llorente could find himself displaced again soon.

3. João Félix.

Ah. Well. Okay then. What is there really to say about João Félix? He is the man who has built a career off one-off performances. This was one of those. An individual performance where he looked like a man worth €126 million. The shame for both Atlético and Barcelona is that those displays are few and far between.

João Félix was the star of the show on this occasion, though. Right from the early stages when he fed through Robert Lewandowski, it was evident he was up for this game. He was involved throughout, showing the kind of commitment, desire and work rate which everyone knows he is capable of, but only sees oh so rarely.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-ATLETICO MADRID Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

What was clearer than ever was that João has no connection left to Atlético de Madrid. Squaring up to Giménez, blowing kisses to the away fans, and many other minor incidents reflected the fact that he is a man with no affection for neither his teammates nor his fans. As such, it’s normal that he should have celebrated his goal in the way he did.

João is clearly happy at Barcelona and enjoying life far more than he ever did in Madrid. What does that mean for his future? Will the Catalans be willing to cough up a nine-figure fee to purchase him this summer? It seems unlikely, but Atlético don’t want him back. Maybe, in a perverse sort of way, a goal in a big game like this one could work, financially, in Atleti’s favour.

4. What is it about Diego Simeone in Barcelona?

Simeone remains without a win at Camp Nou after 15 visits to the Catalan team’s stadium. He can now add Montjuïc to his record. And, he may feel that he is to blame in part for what went wrong on Sunday night.

El Cholo’s record against Barcelona is not the best, with only five wins from 35 games. It’s a strange record given how much he has tested the likes of Real Madrid in the past, and Atleti have needed it to improve for a while in order to compete with these sides for titles.

It’s true that draw at Camp Nou in 2014 was worth so much more than a win, but Atleti need to follow that up. These points dropped could be decisive, and some have already spoken about it possibly ending any title hopes.

Next time Atleti rock up to visit Barcelona it will be 2024/25, and Los Rojiblancos will be looking for their first win since a young Fernando Torres donned the captain’s armband in the noughties. It’s about time that changed.