FC Barcelona - Atlético Madrid: A step closer (1-0)
Another Lionel Messi special is enough for Barça to see off determined opponents who fought for the win right to the very end
After a wonderful tribute to former striker Enrique Castro ‘Quini,’ the top two teams in La Liga provided incredible entertainment in the heat of battle, and just one goal separated them at the end, a terrific free kick scored in the first half by Lionel Messi.
As might’ve been expected, both teams tried to get a foothold in the match and dictate the rhythm at the earliest opportunity. Barça settled quicker and forced two corners in the opening five minutes alone. Jan Oblak was kept on his toes more than once in those early exchanges and got down smartly at this near post to keep the score goalless.
The Blaugrana continued to pressure their visitors with most of the game being played in the Atlético half of the pitch. Messi, despite being surrounded by three players, still managed to get a shot on target but Oblak was equal to it. At the other end, Thomas Partey’s long-ranger was Atleti’s first shot of note, but it didn't arrive until the 21st minute, evidencing Barça’s superiority to that point.
Within five minutes, a foul by Partey was particularly expensive for Los Rojiblancos. Messi scored with a stunning direct free kick, his 600th goal for club and country. The good news was quickly tempered, however, by Andrés Iniesta’s early departure from proceedings, the captain being replaced on 35 by André Gomes.
Atleti would come more into the game after half-time but with an hour gone, Marc-André ter Stegen had remained untroubled. The visitors gambled by bringing on two attacking substitutes to assist Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann, but Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Piqué still held firm, producing a magnificent defensive display.
Luis Suárez was unlucky to be flagged offside on 76, whilst Sergio Busquets had a wonderful drive from a corner saved at the back post by Oblak. With 10 minutes left to play, the pattern of the match had become much more frantic, and the end to end nature ensured excitement and goalmouth action right up until the final whistle.