BARCELONA — Barcelona took another step towards a first LaLiga title since 2019 as they beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 at Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday. Ferran Torres‘ first-half goal was the difference between the two sides as Barca restored their 11-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the table with eight games to go.
1. Barca end title jitters
While Barca have looked on course for the title since March’s win over Madrid, back-to-back goalless draws against Girona and Getafe had created some jitters heading into the game against Atletico, who have climbed to third in the table following an impressive run since losing to Barca in January. Madrid’s victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday had temporarily cut the gap between the top two to eight points.
However, Sunday’s win should ensure there will be no collapse from Xavi Hernandez’s club in the final stretch of the season. Ferran’s goal, well taken at the end of the first half after good work from Raphinha, was enough to earn them three points and end a run of three games without a win in all competitions.
There was further good news for Barca in the return of Frenkie de Jong, who managed 77 minutes after a month out, and Pedri, who came on in the second half. The Spain international had not played since getting injured against Manchester United in February and was given a rousing reception from the crowd of 80,000. He looked sharp, too.
2. Improved Barca still let down in final third
Barca have lacked a clinical edge in recent weeks and that was again the case against Atletico. Their first half goal was their first since April 1 — when Ferran scored against Elche — and ended a run of nearly 350 minutes without a goal in all competitions. That they didn’t add to that tally, though, will worry Xavi.
They had more than enough chances. Gavi missed a good one after being set up by Raphinha, who then wasted an opening inside the six yards box after Lewandowski had crossed. The Polish striker then failed to beat Jan Oblak, who was caught in no-man’s land, when he struck wide with the goal gaping. He could have squared to Raphinha for a tap in.
A 23rd clean sheet in the league this season — they have conceded just nine goals in 30 matches — meant they were not made to pay for those misses, but changes may be needed in attack this summer.
3. Griezmann can’t save Atletico’s unbeaten run
All eyes were on Griezmann as he returned to Camp Nou, where he spent two years as a player. The Frenchman is one of the in-form players in Spain, the star of this Atletico side, and he did not disappoint. Within 40 seconds he had hit the bar with a brilliantly looping effort, setting the tone for another good performances.
He was later denied by former teammate Ter Stegen, who got down low to his right to keep out what looked like a certain goal. The German foiled Griezmann again in the second half when the Atletico forward’s creative flick turned an Alvaro Morata cross goalwards.
Griezmann’s genius — he has 11 league goals this season — could not rescue Atletico this time, though, as their unbeaten streak ended at 13. The last time they lost in the league was against Barca in January. At the time, their place in the Champions League next season looked in doubt. Now, it would take a miracle for them not to finish third despite this setback.
Best and worst performers
Raphinha, FW, Barcelona: Set up Barca’s goal and was a constant thorn in Atletico’s side on the right flank. Only negative was a miss from point-blank range in the second half.
Antoine Griezmann, FW, Atletico Madrid: Could have had a hat-trick on another day, but the woodwork and Ter Stegen denied him.
Frenkie de Jong, MF, Barcelona: The Dutchman was brilliant in midfield on his return to action after a month out.
Axel Witsel, MF, Atletico Madrid: Looked a step off the pace at the base of the midfield and was taken off early in the second period.
Marcos Alonso, DF, Barcelona: Filled in for the injured Andreas Christensen but struggled. Was booked trying to make amends for his own poor pass and then taken off by Xavi after the break.
Jose Maria Gimenez, DF, Atletico Madrid: No where near Ferran for the goal, struggled in possession and lucky not to get at least booked for a high challenge on Raphinha.
Highlights and notable moments
On the cusp of halftime, Ferran broke the deadlock between the two teams and scored his first goal at Camp Nou since October 2022.
Ferran Torres gives Barcelona the lead right before halftime! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Gr9fCMhB2Z
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 23, 2023
After the match: What the managers, players said
Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak on the result: “The feeling isn’t the best. We lost the game, in the first half we didn’t do badly, we did quite well but they scored in the last minute, then in the second half the game was more open, there were more chances for them. But in the end we lost and you can’t say much more.”
On the title race: “Barcelona are far ahead of us for sure, and Madrid are ahead of us too. For a long time this league title has been very difficult [for us] and today it’s the same. We weren’t able to give a bit more excitement to this league, we lost, and if Barcelona carry on winning like that, with the advantage they have, they’re going to win it.”
On the handball penalty appeal: “Honestly I didn’t see it and I haven’t spoken to the others, so I don’t know what happened. If they complained there was probably something but with handballs nobody knows the rules, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, and the referees decide, so I don’t know.”
On the difference for Griezmann at Atletico: “It’s more of a question for him. Here he’s always been at his best, in his first spell and now in his second he’s just as good, I don’t know why he didn’t do as well at Barcelona and I don’t care much, what matters is that he does well with us, he had a great game and I’m sure he’ll keep doing it.”
Barcelona’s Ferran Torres on the result: “We had to get the win at all costs today, it was very important to take a big step towards the league. We did it, the team played well, the fans were with us from the start and we got the result.”
On the wasted chances: “It’s Atletico Madrid, they were 13 games unbeaten, they’re one of the best teams in the best form. The important thing is to have chances, after that you can take them or not but the important thing is to create them.
“We’ve just had some games where we’ve missed that last step for a goal. Today was a day to show that we’re well, that we’re working, we’re excited to win this league and today you saw that on the pitch.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Torres scored his 4th goal of the LaLiga season — matches his total from last season after joining the team in January 2022
Torres’ shot was from 19 yards out, the furthest distance of a goal of his with Barcelona
This is the 10th match Barcelona has won in LaLiga this season in which the final score was 1-0; that is 3 more than any other team in LaLiga
Barcelona: Xavi’s side play Rayo Vallecano next on Wednesday April 26 (stream live on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET) followed by Real Betis at the Camp Nou on Saturday April 29 (stream live on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET).
Torres eases Barca nerves in LaLiga title race despite wastefulness