Barça and Atlético gave Madrid the possibility of reaching the leadership if they beat Sevilla. It should not be ruled out that the title is decided by goal average after the difficulties of the favorites to make a difference in a diabolical and contained League. Atlético proved that it is the team with the fewest goals scored on the field of the highest scorer: not even the top scorer scored Messi. In return, he did not know how to unbalance the game when he had it in his favor, lacking the trigger of Luis Suárez, who barely left a trace on his return to Camp Nou.
Barça resisted in a day designed to take off and finally failed despite the deployment of Messi and the success of Ter Stegen. The other Barcelona footballers did not accompany. He did not have the greatness or passion that the appointment demanded, it did not seem that the League was played, nothing strange if one remembers his inferiority against the great rivals of the championship and also of the Champions League.
The Barça coldness became overwhelming in some moments of the game, until Koeman corrected himself and tempered Atlético. Barça had never been such a calculating team, they had never finished a game 0-0, used to coming back or winning at the peak, as happened with Granada.
The lineups go a long way since the matches start hours before the ball is put into play and football is debated inside and out, with and without the ball or medium, high or low pressure, the teams scrutinized by crowds of analysts who try to guess the plans of the technicians, and more if it is Koeman and Simeone and the appointment is decisive for the League. The game then runs along paths not necessarily indicated or, on the contrary, it develops along the planned routes, difficult to predict in a Barça-Atlético that many preferred to summarize in a duel of friends: Luis Suárez-Messi.
The formations announced, in any case, an open game starring the brave: Mingueza played for Araujo in the azulgrana and the rojiblancos joined Correa and Carrasco. The plan designed on the slates did not correspond to the football practiced on the Camp Nou lawn. Barcelona needed time to reach Atlético’s court. He played a lot and tried to ensure possession, low risk and in need of security, pending a defense that was too contemplative to face the dynamic second line designed by Simeone.
The only news when the quarter of an hour was fulfilled was Lemar’s injury. The azulgranas lacked speed and depth, while the rojiblancos were firmer and finishers, selective and damaging, as noted in an arrival by Correa whose shot was avoided by Lenglet. Barça did not attack well, lacking rhythm and shrapnel, waiting not to make mistakes, easy to defend for Atlético. Barça played by the strings of Busquets until he was knocked out in a clash with Savic. Busquets began to bleed and was replaced by Ilaix.
The Catalans were left without a compass and surrendered to Ter Stegen. Up to three shots in a row the Barça goalkeeper took out. Atlético went for the game, far superior to a loose and indifferent opponent, unable to steal the ball, subdued until Messi appeared. On the 10th he started with a driving and alone, without help from anyone and against the athletic 11, he began to dribble until he finished off next to Oblak’s left post. The fingertips of the goalkeeper prevented the goal from the Barça captain. The best chance until Felipe did not hit the exit from a corner against Ter Stegen.
It was not known what he intended or what Barça was playing, depersonalized, fragile on the right side and Alba’s left blocked by Atlético. No Barça player was putting pressure on a rojiblanco team that was more aggressive and agitated by Carrasco and Llorente. Koeman had no choice but to remove Mingueza to better defend with Araujo. And to the Uruguayan Lenglet took away a frank shot in a corner as soon as he jumped to the Camp Nou. The contest was balanced by the better defensive stability of Barça and even Ilaix and Piqué could score.
Atlético lacked dribbling and waist and Simeone called João Félix while Messi did not stop taking cards from the rojiblancos, setting up his team’s offense and demanding a set piece from Oblak. With Pedri and De Jong off, there was no more Barça striker than 10. The watchword was to wait for Messi’s goal until Koeman oxygenated the team with Sergi Roberto and Dembélé, erratic in a header without an opponent against Oblak.
The fate of the contest was at the expense of a detail that did not arrive in a very tense last stretch, difficult to manage emotionally and footballingly, the two teams denied, one because they could not and the other because they did not know, both in the hands of Madrid.