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Phew! This was a game FC Barcelona simply had to win, especially after the two league leaders had both won on Saturday. And win it they did in a direct clash with the other main protagonist at the top of the Liga table, Atlético Madrid.
A fabulous, dominant display in the first half was capped by João Félix putting away the only goal of the game, but Culers will have felt short changed after far too many other chances went begging.
As feared, Atlético got their act together in the second half, and the three points never looked safe until the final whistle blew to spark celebrations on Montjuic.
Barça were clearly in no mood for messing around. Straight from the word, they barraged the Atlético goal with chance after chance, and very good chances too, and they could easily have been three goals up inside the first quarter of an hour.
Atlético couldn’t get anything going at all. There could be absolutely no arguing that Barça thoroughly deserved the goal when it finally came.
And of all people it was João Félix, and an extraordinarily motivated João Félix against the club from which he’s here on loan, scoring for his second game in a row. Raphinha, who himself would hit the post later in the game, supplied the ball and the Portuguese striker beat Nahuel Molina with ease before popping a neat finish past Jan Oblak.
Atlético raise their game
Even after scoring, Barça continued to dominate. So refreshing to see the team playing with the kind of intensity that they’ve been accused of lacking of late. But also frustrating that by half-time they had just the one goal to show for one of the best halves of football they have played all season.
While Barça had been brilliant, it was also hard to comprehend why Atlético had been so uncharacteristically stale. One wondered whether Barça might come to regret not burying their chances when they had them, for surely the opposition were capable of better than this.
And indeed they were. The slender lead started to look more and more wobbly as the second half wore on and the red-and-whites gradually started showing us more and more of what they could do.
An equaliser would have been very cruel, but it was certainly not out of the question now that the chances, of which there were many, were coming in more or less equal measure. By the closing minutes, Barça were clearly running out of legs and it was more and more a question of increasingly more desperately clinging onto the lead.
The best of the visiting chances was a quite brilliantly struck free kick from former Barça man Memphis, kept out by an even greater save from stand-in keeper Iñaki Peña.
And in practically the last move of the game, Angel Correa could have delivered the killer blow that Barça fans were dreading. Instead, Peña was once again the hero and the final whistle blew on a very intense game of football indeed.
That puts Barça back to within four points of the leaders, one of whom, Girona, they will be facing next weekend. Same time, same place. See you there.
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