La Liga 2018-19, Barcelona 2-0 Atletico Madrid: 4 Reasons why Barcelona won the game
At the end of the full time whistle at Nou Camp on Saturday, Ernesto Valverde was a relieved man. Even after going a man down, Atletico Madrid had fought till their last breath. Simeone's battle-hardened men had been taking Costa's dismissal in their stride. They had refused to go down into the night meekly.
Instead, Atletico gave Barcelona a game and the Catalans struggled to snatch away a memorable win. The fact that Barcelona missed so many chances to put the game to bed will have Valverde worried, but being 11 points clear at the top of the table in La Liga should ease his mood.
But how did Barcelona manage to win the game despite being far from their very best? Here are 4 reasons why the Catalans won the game.
#4 Costa Red Card
Up until the first 28 minutes, the game was an even tie. Both teams had started strong and both had chances to take the lead. Even though Atletico were wary of Barcelona's attacking threat, they used the ball and the spaces on the field well and regularly knocked on the home side's doors. Barcelona had to rely on last ditched defending quite a few times to stay in the game.
Altogether, it was an extremely entertaining affair and looked every bit like the top of the table clash that it was billed to be. However, things quickly escalated in the 28th minute. After Diego Costa appeared to be fouled, the referee refused to give a free kick, preferring instead to play an advantage to the away side. This was too much for the Spaniard, who violently expressed his dissent to the referee. It looked like the referee was about to show him a yellow, but then something Costa said made Referee Jesus Gil Manzano change his mind and the Spaniard received his marching orders.
After Costa was gone, Atletico lost their tempo and had to chase the game. They had to work doubly hard and it helped Barcelona take a firm grip on the proceedings.
#3 Simeone's attacking intent
Despite Costa's dismissal, Atletico actually managed to stay in the game. The first half ended with the score 0-0, even though Barcelona had come very close to scoring themselves. This was because Simeone managed to keep his team compact and refused to allow Barcelona any space.
However, because of their position in the table, Simeone had to go all out to attack. Immediately after the red card, he replaced his right back, Santiago Arias, with striker Angel Correa. In the second half, Simeone opted for Alvaro Morata to replace left-back Filipe Luis.
While the substitutes managed to hold the shape together, in the long run, the creaks in the Atletico armour began to show. Barcelona were quick to pounce on the opportunity and started taking advantages of the spaces that were available on the field. In the end, it helped the home team win the game.
#2 Clever substitutions
After Costa's red card, Valverde did not make any changes. He even allowed the team to start the second half unchanged. However, he had already hatched a plan.
The Barcelona coach saw the spaces open up down the flanks and realized the opportunity had presented itself. He brought on Malcom for Arthur Melo in the 63rd minute and suddenly, the tide was in Barcelona's favour. Malcom was extremely effective on the right side and stretched the away defense. It opened up further spaces in the center for Messi and co. to operate upon.
In the 80th minute, Valverde replaced the misfiring Coutinho with the young Carles Alena. With two young blood running at the tired legs of Atletico, Barcelona finally found the breakthrough at the closing stages of the game.
#1 Brilliance of their front men
In the end, it was the familiar duo of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi who did all the damage for Barcelona. After missing a host of opportunities throughout the game, Suarez finally found the back of the net in the 85th minute. The goal was a testament to his qualities as a striker. He took the ball from Alba on the left side of the box and unleashed a low curling volley, that slipped under the diving Oblak just withing the far corner.
What Messi did was even better. A minute after Barcelona had taken the lead, Messi found himself in space in the opposition half and received the ball from Busquets. He ran into the box and then stopped to adjust himself. While everyone in the world was expecting him to send in another curler or a volley, the Argentinean fooled them all and scored from a cheeky shot into the near corner.
In the end, Barcelona rode the brilliance of their front men to win the game.