Barcelona salvaged a one-all draw in the final minute through Ousmane Dembele after being tactically outclassed by Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid. Even though the Catalans controlled the ball for the majority of the game, the hosts apart from the last five minutes never appeared in danger. Atletico took the lead courtesy of Diego Costa.
Forced to deal with two key injuries to midfielders, Ernesto Valverde was forced to make some changes. Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto both featured in midfield along with Sergio Busquets and Arthur. Nelson Semedo started at right back while Samuel Umtiti made a return to the starting XI after his long injury absence. The hosts were also dealing with numerous injuries, most of them coming in the back-line.
Barcelona dominated the ball from the opening whistle, but the first opportunity went to the hosts, but Koke’s free kick was easily collected by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Atletico’s attacks were mostly limited to counter-attacks while Barcelona looked to build through possession play – a fairly typical scene when these two face off. But even with Diego Godin out of the lineup, Atletico’s defense allowed very little. Barcelona first chance came when Lionel Messi dribbled past two defenders to send a dangerous ball inside, but the home side defense cleared the danger.
It wasn’t until the 20th minute before Barcelona created their next half-chance - when Messi, Arthur and Roberto combined excellently after a corner kick, but Roberto’s final pass didn’t reach a wide open Umtiti in front of goal. Atletico’s tactical set-up caused Barcelona all kinds of problems in attack as there was very little creativity on the pitch outside of Messi. The losses of Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitić were clearly having an effect. The addition of Vidal also didn’t have a very desirable effect.
Minutes were passing by and as time was running out of the first half neither team had even taken a shot on goal – a stat that would not change before the halftime whistle. However, an ill-timed diving play by Gerard Pique almost caught ter Stegen on the wrong foot, but the ball didn’t redirect too far after what should’ve been a harmless play.
Just before halftime, Roberto was brought down in midfield by Koke, holding his hamstring as a result. Roberto went into the locker room before the two minutes off added time were completed, but even though Rafinha was ready to be brought on he would not do so in the first half. Atletico could surely be happier going into the break as they managed to completely shut down all of Barcelona’s attacks.
Barcelona started the second half with Rafinha joining play in place of the injured Roberto and the Catalans quickly went on the offensive. The visitors immediately created a half-chance after a poorly cleared Messi free kick, but Arthur’s low shot was blocked before he could threaten Jan Oblak. Barcelona were pilling on some more pressure, but Atletico’s defense continued to allow very little space.
After just ten minutes on the pitch Rafinha picked up a knock, but was able to continue even though he played with a slight limp. At the one hour mark, Atletico created the best looking chance for either side. Arthur turned the ball over, springing Antoine Griezmann on the counter. The Frenchman was able to send a low ball in despite pressure from Jordi Alba, but Costa was unable to finish the play off after a great defensive play from Pique.
The way Atletico were playing in defense a breakthrough appeared unlikely. The biggest problem, however, came in the 78th minute. After provocation upon provocation, Barcelona were on edge and on Atletico’s first corner kick of the match, on their first shot on goal, Costa put Atletico in the lead. Ter Stegen did get his fingertips on the ball but couldn’t make the save.
In the 80th minute Dembele replaced Arthur. Moments later Messi fired Barcelona’s first shot on goal from a free kick, but it was easy pickings for Oblak. Malcom would also join play as he replaced Vidal.
With time running out Barcelona were finally attacking and finding success doing so. Had Barcelona played with attacking aspirations the story at this point probably would’ve been different, but now the Catalans were desperately searching for an equalizer. And they found it in the 90th minute with Dembele playing hero once again. Messi brilliantly found Dembele in space on the right wing. The young Frenchman made no mistake, sending the ball through the legs of Oblak and into the back of the net.
For some reason, Barcelona pulled back immediately and Atletico pressed forward creating a couple half-chances but Barcelona survived. With the shared spoils Barcelona, for now at least, remain in first place of the standings but could lose that spot tomorrow when Sevilla take the stage. Barcelona will look to return to winning ways on Wednesday when they take on PSV in the Champions League.