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Luuk de Jong saves Xavi’s skin


João Félix said that he knows what’s happening to him at Atleti, but he can’t say what it is. Well, he might well be better off coming out and saying it, because what’s going on at Atleti is a complete mystery - on a similar level to the Holy Trinity or the theory of succession of prime numbers. They started off missing a penalty which would have put them 2-0 before the half hour. Had it gone in, it may well have kick-started a goal fest, but they ended up conceding three goals in 12 minutes (two of them, gifted penalties) and they still had time to make it 3-3 before half-time. In the second half, one of their centre-backs was sent off - 10 against 11, Atleti sat back and defended until with a sudden rush of blood to the head, their substitute centre-back made it 4-3 in the last minute.

Barcelona leave it late in the derby

That win, together with Betis’ victory away at Levante and Real Sociedad’s over Granada, raised the bar for Barça ahead of their derby meeting with Espanyol - for Xavi’s men, securing fourth place is the minimum objective. And while they just about managed to cling on to that last Champions League place, there was little else about their performance to cheer in Cornellà. Espanyol will feel hard done to - they had toiled hard during the whole 90 minutes and had victory within their grasp as the dying seconds of stoppage time ticked down. The equaliser came from a cross whipped in by Adama and headed home by Luuk de Jong. Not exactly vintage Barça. Just classic football - football of the ages.

Five teams chasing two Champions League slots

The contrast between all of the good things and all of the bad things about Xavi’s Barça is so pronounced, that occasionally, just when it seems it’s all coming together, it suddenly falls to pieces like mayonnaise turning putrid. Frenkie de Jong, who looked the better of the two not so long back, is now the one who looks lost. Gavi and Pedri work well together, but Ferran Torres was nowhere to be seen. Adama Traoré is great at getting past his man but every time he does, it wrecks the rhythm of the tiki-taka style that the purists hold in such high esteem. Eric Garcia isn’t a reinforcement for the defence because although he’s a good footballer, he’s not a defender. With Real Madrid and Sevilla streets ahead in the standings, the race for the last two Champions League berths is between Betis (who have a four-point advantage), Barça, Atlético, Real Sociedad and Villarreal. It’s going to be very tough….


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