Atlético soar, Barça fade

With each game that passes, Atlético are establishing themselves as the principal candidates to go on and win this year’s league title. They remain unbeaten and are three points clear of Real Madrid with a game in hand. But apart from the points, it’s the positive vibe which Simeone’s team is giving off. They were deserved winners against Barça last night with the winner coming from Carrasco, the man of the match. He played as a wing-back, taking on Dembélé and haring up and down the wing. His goal was all that separated the two teams on the whistle. Carrasco is a player reborn. When he first joined Atlético, he caught the eye for his speed and class – but also for being a little wet behind the ears. He went off to China and for a while it seemed as though he might have given up on becoming a proper player but he returned a changed man.

Confident finish from Carrasco

He scored an authentic winger’s goal – helped a little by some clumsy defending, including by Ter Stegen who came tearing off his line. Nevertheless Carrasco kept a cool head to shimmy past the keeper and finish from a good distance with a precision shot which was struck so well that Lenglet had no chance of clearing it before it crossed the line. That goal decided the game but it could have arrived at any point as Atlético were the better side in terms of intensity, support and more than anything else, how they were positioned out on the pitch. Simeone closed the midfield with three centre-backs aided by Koke and Saúl, caging Messi in every time Barça tried to step up a gear.

Messi

Barcelona revolve around Messi

Making matters worse for Barça, who have taken just 11 points from a possible 24, was losing Piqué, to what looked like a nasty knee injury. And it’s hard not to mention the knock-on effect of the whole Messi business. He is delivering too little for what he costs, creates too much uncertainty while his future is still unknown. While Messi is still at the club, Koeman will base his gameplan around him; but you can only wonder when the day will arrive when Barça put together project in which all the parts function together rather than the current scenario in which everything hangs on Messi’s weariness, his frown and forlorn gestures.