There was plenty to look forward to at the Camp Nou on Sunday. Two teams who began the season as title contenders, battling it out for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Barça back at their home ground after a 50-day wait. And the clash between Xavi and Diego Simeone, who had traded pre-match comments which, though not exactly barbs, did constitute a debate over footballing identities. Up against each other were the Barça style, which Xavi previously put into action on the pitch and is now out to do so from the touchline, and the ‘Cholo’ style, which has led Atlético Madrid to the most successful period in their history. Having so enjoyed the clash between Menottismo and Bilbardismo late last century, how could we not embrace the edge brought to this weekend’s game.
Adama impresses on second debut for Barcelona
Xavi won the argument over style on Sunday, because goals speak louder than words and Barcelona scored four to Atlético’s two. It’s another step forwards in a difficult rebuilding job at Barça, who established a decisive lead in the first half thanks in no small part to the returning Adama Traoré, a homegrown player who the club had let go because… he didn’t fit their style. Pitted against the weak link in the Atlético defence, Mario Hermoso (who had no support from the work-shy João Félix on the visitors’ left), Traoré was a thorn in Los Rojiblancos’ side, as Barça recovered from 1-0 down to lead 3-1 at the break. For all the talk about brands of football, a coach’s plan lives or dies by the players who enact it.
So Barcelona are now in the top four and Atlético are outside of it. As Xavi has set about rebuilding Barça, Simeone’s team has been going to pieces. Atleti’s famed defensive solidity is now a distant memory. They’ve become a side who are so, so generous at the back and in attack pay the price for the doubts in Simeone’s mind. The better team won, then, despite a moment of madness from Dani Alves, who has a nasty side that sometimes gets the better of him. Alves’ dismissal added extra spice to a final period in which, once again, Barça lacked the energy and personality to kill the game off. But they’re on the right track. The same cannot be said of Atlético; the weeks are going by and they’re not getting any better.