SOCCER

Simeone claims Messi to be the "decisive factor" between Barcelona and Atletico

Lionel Messi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain left Barcelona without their usual difference-maker against Atletico Madrid.

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Messi used to be the difference between Barca and Atletico, says Simeone

Diego Simeone did not feel Atletico Madrid was any better against Barcelona on Saturday than in previous meetings, with Lionel Messi's absence instead of the decisive factor.

Atletico has had a poor record against Barca in Simeone's time at the club, going 20 without a win in this fixture before their 1-0 success in 2020-21.

Atletico unwavering against Barcelona

But they have now gone three without conceding to the Blaugrana in LaLiga for the first time, having drawn 0-0 at the end of last season and won 2-0 on Saturday.

Barca had 70.4 percent of the possession but created only nine shots worth a combined 1.0 expected goals at the Wanda Metropolitano.

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Messi had scored 26 goals in 30 LaLiga games against Atleti – only managing more against Sevilla (30) and Valencia (27) – and a lack of cutting edge was evident without him.

Did Messi leave Barcelona unprotected?

"It's the first game we played against Barca without Messi," coach Simeone told a news conference. "Other games there have not been much different to this one, but now Messi is not there."

By contrast, Atleti was ruthless in attack, led by former Barca superstar Luis Suarez.

He teed up the opener for Thomas Lemar, who returned the favor for Suarez to score against Barca for the first time, meaning he has netted against all 31 opponents he has faced in Spain's top flight.

Felix, key for the win

Joao Felix was also involved in both goals, with the opener including one of four passes he completed to Suarez. He found no team-mate more often.

The Portugal international started ahead of Antoine Griezmann, who failed to fire from the bench, but Simeone was not ready to declare Joao Felix and Suarez his new first-choice front line.

"At this hour, we can't get carried away by one game," he said. "There's [Angel] Correa, Griezmann's moment. He scored in the Champions League.

"We have important footballers. Hopefully, they can accept that we can be a group so we can be a team."