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Barca weather Atletico storm! Winners, losers & ratings as La Liga leaders prove their mettle to pull clear of Real Madrid

02:24 EAT 09/01/2023
Barca-Atletico-2022-23-La-Liga-GFX
Barcelona picked up a hard-fought win over Atletico Madrid thanks to an Ousmane Dembele strike, moving three points clear at the top in the process.

Antoine Griezmann had to score. The French midfielder had received the ball at an inviting height three yards from goal, with time enough to pick his spot. But he scuffed his shot, allowing a retreating Ronald Araujo to clear the ball off the line and preserve Barcelona's 1-0 lead.

It was the last act of a tense matchup between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, with Araujo's heroics proving vital as Xavi's men emerged from the Wanda Metropolitano with all three points.

Barca created relatively few chances, but were ultimately the more clinical of the two sides. Dembele grabbed the only goal, while Araujo and Andreas Christensen put in admirable performances in central defence to keep a surging Atleti side out and establish a three-point lead over arch-rivals Real Madrid at the La Liga summit.

Dembele opened the scoring for Blaugrana in sublime fashion. Pedri picked up the ball in central midfield 22 minutes in and evaded two defenders with a superb show of dribbling ability before feeding Gavi, who then flicked it on to a wide-open Dembele. The French international was celebrating before his first-time shot hit the back of the net as Jan Oblak was left with no change in the Atleti net.

After falling behind, the hosts woke up. Jose Maria Gimenez sent a header wide. Greizmann had a shot tipped around the post. Marcos Llorente struck a volley into the side-netting. But the home side couldn't find an equalizer before half-time. Still, they continued to press forward in the second period and seemed to frustrate a tired Barcelona with their constant pressing. Tempers frayed in stoppage time as Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres were both sent off for a WWE-worthy brawl before Griezmann was eventually presented with the golden chance Atleti craved, but it went begging and the visitors held on for the win.

  • Dembele

    The Winners

    Pedri:

    The one real standout of a four-man fluid Barca midfield, Pedri flourished in a free-roaming role. The Spanish midfielder set up Barca's only goal with a wonderful run and flick to the feet of Gavi. He played with tempo, too, running at defenders and trying to link up with the rest of Barca's attacking unit. Pedri didn't quite figure things out defensively, and should've helped track the roaming Marcos Llorente. Still, if Barca are to stick with this system, Pedri will have few complaints.

    Ousmane Dembele:

    Dembele has often been the subject of criticism for his lack of finishing ability, but he showed little hesitation in putting the Blaugrana into the lead Saturday evening. His finish was a classy one, smashed into the far corner past a sprawling Jan Oblak. He was also the most active of the Barca wide players, constantly running at Atleti defenders and offering an attacking outlet in a match where his team were largely pinned back. The winger has now scored in back-to-back games - a good sign with Robert Lewandowski suspended.

    Ronald Araujo:

    It was clear Sunday night just how much Barcelona have missed their Uruguayan centre-back. Araujo endured an unsteady first few minutes, but really grew into the game, and flourished under pressure. His last-minute clearance off the line was the highlight, but the defender was a calming presence for most of the second half. He didn't lose an aerial dual and refused to be drawn out of position by the energetic Antoine Griezmann. Araujo's partnership with Andreas Christensen worked well Saturday evening, and might be the solution to Barca's defensive woes for the rest of the season.

  • Joao Felix

    The Losers

    Joao Felix:

    If Felix wants a move amid ongoing links with Manchester United, he's not doing much to suggest he deserves it. While it's certainly true that Diego Simeone isn't the attacking coach that would get the best out of the young Portuguese, Felix had plenty of space here, and didn't do much with it. He lost the ball too often, and wasn't on the same wavelength as either Griezmann or Pablo Barrios. Felix faded even further when Alvaro Morata came on, and Atletico went more direct.

    Diego Simeone:

    It's not really the Simeone way, but it's fair to wonder what this Atletico side might do if they adopted a more forward-thinking setup. He has a litany of expansive, creative players in his lineup, but they often feel misused and blunted by a rigid system. In truth, Atleti were much better after they conceded, forced to search for an equalizer. Simeone sides of old were far more balanced, able to hit on the counter but also squeeze the life out of opposing attacks. This iteration of Atletico can't quite do that, and it might be time for Simeone to change his approach. If he doesn't, his time at the club could soon come to an end.

    Ansu Fati:

    Xavi must be puzzled as to how to get the best out of his young forward. Fati is locked in competition with a handful of other attacking players for minutes, and he hasn't really seized his chances of late. His winner against Intercity in the Copa Del Rey suggested that better times may be on the way, and it was enough to warrant a spot in the XI here. But he was often lost in a fluid front three, exposing the fragility of a Barca attack that never really got going. Space was at a premium Sunday evening, and Fati never found it.

  • Araujo-Atletico-Barcelona

    Barcelona Ratings: Defence

    Marc Andre Ter Stegen (6/10):

    Made a tidy save to deny Griezmann in the first half, but his distribution was lacking. Not always a reliable presence.

    Jules Kounde (6/10):

    Unconvincing going forward, but equipped himself well at the back.

    Ronald Araujo (8/10):

    Shaky early, but found his footing. He proved to be vital when Barcelona were under pressure in the dying minutes.

    Andreas Christensen (7/10):

    Rock solid at the back and kept possession ticking nicely. He was adventurous on the ball, linking up with Balde and Pedri well.

    Alejandro Balde (5/10):

    Spent most of his time roaming forward as part of Barca's fluid attacking setup. But he was often caught out of position, allowing Atleti to cause problems down his side.

  • Gavi Griezmann Atletico Madrid Barcelona LaLiga 2022-23

    Midfield

    Frenkie de Jong (6/10):

    Was tasked with a more passive role, shielding for the more advanced Pedri. Kept the ball moving nicely. Could have offered more coverage for the struggling Balde. Subbed after an hour.

    Sergio Busquets (6/10):

    Very solid on the ball but looks increasingly vulnerable in defensive transitions at his age. Really struggled to deal with the excellent Griezmann as the game wore on, and needed to be subbed earlier than he was.

    Gavi (6/10):

    Played one lovely pass to set up Dembele for the opener, but faded out of the game. Can't be faulted for his effort, but he didn't quite have the attacking influence that Barca needed to put Atleti away.

  • Dembele-Pedri-Barca

    Attack

    Ousmane Dembele (8/10):

    Got himself on the scoresheet with a clinical finish. Should've had a second, but hesitated to shoot under pressure. He's starting to flourish under Xavi.

    Pedri (8/10):

    Played in a roaming role, and was dangerous cutting in off the left. His winding run set up Barca's opener. Conducted his defensive work well, and tried to keep the ball when Barca started to lose control.

    Ansu Fati (5/10):

    Brought into the XI to play a central role and failed to impact play. Substituted on the hour mark after a tepid showing.

  • Xavi Barcelona 2022-23

    Subs & Manager

    Franck Kessie (6/10):

    Sent on to help Barca get a foothold in the game. He broke up play nicely but was otherwise underwhelming.

    Ferran Torres (3/10):

    Touched the ball nine times and was then sent off.

    Raphinha (5/10):

    Brought on for the struggling Gavi, didn't impact play too much.

    Sergi Roberto (5/10):

    An extra body at the back. Didn't really make an impact in 15 minutes.

    Marcos Alonso (6/10):

    Better defensively than Balde, and made a couple of key clearances.

    Xavi (6/10):

    Xavi went for an unusual attacking setup, playing without a realized left winger and having his team play 2-3-5 in possession. It was an interesting idea, but didn't cause Atleti too many problems, as Barca clearly lacked a central striking presence. Still, his side got a goal and defended well, which he deserves credit for.