Atlético de Madrid – FC Barcelona: Revenge is served cold in Madrid (0-3)

Xavi Hernández’s Barça moved back into second place in LaLiga after a great game against Atleti. Lewandowski and Ter Stegen completed great performances that reminded us of old times and João Félix completed his cold and expected revenge.

Tactical analysis and match report by Xavi Sánchez.

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After both teams qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it was time to get back on track in LaLiga. Simeone’s team was looking to regain fourth place to get into the Champions League next season. For their part, Xavi Hernández’s team were looking to establish themselves in second place and close the gap on Real Madrid in this final stretch of the championship.

It was a highly demanding duel, and despite the fact that both teams were missing some important players, both coaches fielded their best players for the match. Atleti had to deal with the substitution of Griezmann and Koke, both fatigued after the intense elimination against Inter. They were replaced by youngsters Riquelme and Barrios, two promising Atleti youth players who are already making a name for themselves in the elite. On the Barça side, Xavi had to replace Cancelo and Christensen also through two young academy players, Fort and Fermín. In these times of crisis in LaLiga, the youth academy carries much more weight than the millions a club can spend in the transfer market.

Atleti’s pressure and Barça’s constant problems

Simeone has undergone a surprising transformation in the last two years. Gone is his ultra-defensive side, with games to remember such as his Champions League tie in 2022 against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, where João Félix played at left-back. Now, as a result of a serious deficiency in the defensive line, Simeone throws his players into attack, pressing the opposition as high as possible to be able to steal in the danger zone and not make Jan Oblak’s goal uncomfortable.

This high pressing caused many problems for Xavi’s Barça, who have been suffering from this problem all season. With Atleti pressing man to man and covering the double pivot formed by Gündoğan and Sergi Roberto, Barça looked for solutions through the passing of Ter Stegen and the appearances of the players furthest forward: Fermín and Lewandowski. The main problem they found was Fermín’s lack of control and tempo, with the Polish striker having to take on the role of receiving the ball deep and turning, meaning the loss of the striker as a reference when it came to attacking.

7th minute: Atleti press high up the pitch and Barça solve the problem with a long ball from Ter Stegen to Lewandowski, who comes deep to receive the ball. With a single pass, Barça dismantle Atleti’s pressure, but they don’t have an attacking striker to get past Atleti’s defence.

The revenge of João Félix

Sometimes, life gives us the desire to be the protagonist of a Hollywood movie and everything that happens around us seems scripted. João Félix must have felt something like that on his return to the Metropolitano. The Portuguese, in front of his former fans, once again showed glimpses of his irregular quality. A quality that makes him one of the best players in the world and an irregularity that pushes him to be just one of the bunch.

Barça were also pressing high on Atlético de Madrid’s ball. On one recovery, Xavi’s side began to build up play from the left flank, with the young Fort and the inconsistent Felix combining and throwing walls. Atleti pulled their defensive line back too far, allowing Gündoğan to get close to the box. The German made a simple cut-back to set up Lewandowski, who neatly passed the ball back for João Félix to score again against his former team, just as he did in the first leg at Montjuic. A revenge that looked like a movie.

Flashbacks from the past

The second half was a reflection of Barça’s recent past. Xavi Hernández’s side seemed to forget all the problems and complexes they have been carrying this season and returned to playing as they did last season. The pressure was again suffocating and effective, and they managed to score the second goal from a steal on the edge of the Atletico box. Lewandowski was once again the centre-forward of reference that brought so much success in Munich and beat Oblak with a strike that very few strikers are capable of.

The Polish player felt liberated in the Atleti pitch, surely thanks to the help of Fermín, Raphinha and João Félix, who provided the mobility to Barça’s attack that Lewandowski could not. The three attacking midfielders were voraciously attacking the spaces left by the defenders trailed by Barça’s number 9. And Lewandowski himself took advantage of these situations to set up goals, as in Fermín’s third goal. Two assists and a goal for Lewandowski, who was deservedly awarded MVP of the match.

That MVP was also contested by Ter Stegen, who again showed the same assurance he did last season, making extraordinary saves and going four LaLiga matches without conceding a goal. In a team so criticised and weakened by injuries, the return of defensive solidity and effectiveness in front of goal is the best news that can be given to a solitary Xavi Hernández.


Atlético de Madrid moved further away from the Champions League places after this heavy defeat. Their pressing was intense and coordinated, but their weak defensive line once again took its toll. Next season, their competitive ceiling will be determined by the signings they make in defence. They need to improve on what not so many years ago gave them two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey and two Champions League finals,

Barça are still on an upward trend despite the fact that they have more and more absentees. Their ball circulation continues to be a problem, as they do not have the mechanisms to overcome high pressures, but the high level that their players are showing in key situations allows them to continue competing in LaLiga and to be in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Like Atleti, their competitive ceiling will be determined by whether they can maintain the defensive solidity and effectiveness in front of goal that they showed in Madrid tonight.

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