Barca put pressure on Atletico
Barcelona’s title hopes may still be slim but there’s no doubt the Catalans put the pressure on leaders Atletico ahead of their clash with Real Madrid on Sunday.
Ronald Koeman’s side were a distant 10 points behind the Rojiblancos at the end of January but that gap is now just two points, although the leaders do have two games in hand.
Saturday’s win extended Barca’s unbeaten run in La Liga to 16 games and was also the team’s seventh straight victory on the road in the league.
That run has helped reignite Barca’s hopes of pipping Atleti to the title and means all eyes will be on the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday to see how the leaders respond.
Ilaix brings the excitement
Barca’s win may have boosted their title hopes, but there’s no doubt that it was 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba who stole the headlines and provided the real excitement with his first goal.
Koeman once again showed he had no qualms at all about throwing the midfielder on in an important game and was promptly rewarded as the youngster made the points safe with a fine goal.
Barca’s midfield has been shot-shy all season, frustratingly so at times, but Ilaix was not afraid to have a go and a fine curled finish beat Sergio Herrera before he lit up El Sadar with a huge smile.
It was a great moment for the midfielder and for Barcelona who can look to the future with real confidence given the great bunch of youngsters they have in and around the first-team.
Ter Stegen & Messi lead the way
While the youngsters were impressing, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and captain Lionel Messi were busy leading by example and were key to the win.
Ter Stegen made a string of important saves to keep a fourth consecutive clean sheet on what was a landmark appearance for Barcelona. The goalkeeper became the German player with the most appearances for the club on what was his 171st La Liga outing for the Catalans.
Meanwhile, Messi may not have found the back of the net but still ended up with two more assists.
Lionel Messi has now been directly involved in 24 goals in LaLiga this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 6, 2021
⚽️ 19 goals
️ 5 assists
At least six more goal involvements than any other player in the league. pic.twitter.com/8cL2sh5omU
The first was a glorious ball out to Jordi Alba to break the deadlock before the captain teed up Ilaix Moriba for the second.
Alba matches season’s best
Jordi Alba also came up with another key contribution, scoring a brilliant goal to open the scoring after a hard-fought 30 minutes at El Sadar.
It was another emphatic finish from the left-back who is now on five goals for the season in La Liga, matching his best goalscoring season.
Four of Alba’s goals have come in his last nine games for Barcelona, while the left-back also has five assists in all competitions in 2020-21 so far.
There’s no doubt Alba’s in great form attacking-wise this season but is also doing better defensively with the backline looking a lot stronger since Koeman tweaked his formation.
What now for Griezmann?
Koeman’s tactical switch has spelt bad news for Griezmann but the Frenchman was back in the starting XI on Saturday after starting the last three games on the bench.
Griezmann took over from Ousmane Dembele in attack with Messi and worked typically hard but did not make the most of the opportunity and struggled to make any impact.
Griezmann looked as though he had turned things around earlier this year after going on a hot streak in front of goal, but this was another performance that just made you wonder where he fits at Barcelona.