Late goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi handed Barcelona a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou. The win practically handed the Catalan giants the La Liga title, as they stretch the lead at the top of the table to 11 points.
With Ousmane Dembele injured, Philippe Coutinho will – in all probability – start in Barcelona’s Champions League fixture against Manchester United on Wednesday.
We take a look at how the Brazilian performed against Atletico.
Shots (on target): 3 (2)
Passes (success rate): 39 (97%)
Dribbles completed: 5
Coutinho started on the front foot in the first half and looked confident from the beginning. He linked up very well with Suarez and Messi up front and looked good on the counter.
Additionally, his work-rate was appreciable and he paroled up and down the left wing to provide a sense of security to Jordi Alba. He also put in a solid block of Saul Nigez’s shot which could have surprised Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the near post.
The Brazilian created a couple of good chances but he also lacked a cutting edge and was often the culprit in letting Atletico through on the counter.
GOT RIGHT: CONFIDENCE
Coutinho is clearly going through a rough patch and it’s never easy to go up against the best defence in the league in such a state of mind. To his credit, the Brazilian put on a confident show. A goal or an assist could have done a lot to amplify this confidence, but the grit and commitment showed by Coutinho is worth a mention.
This also helped him create a couple of really good goalscoring opportunities as he went for the final ball in situations he probably would have ordinarily played a safe pass. The Brazilian did create arguably the best chance of the first half, which Suarez failed to convert.
Simply put, Coutinho completed 38 of the 39 passes he attempted, successfully completed five dribbles and made a crucial block. He might have lacked the edge to finish off moves, but these stats reek of confidence.
GOT WRONG: CONVERSION
For all his confidence, Coutinho‘s conversion was really poor. The midfielder was presented with two good chances in the first half, but he failed to make Oblak break sweat.
It’s true that he was up against arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, but David De Gea is in the same tier or slightly higher and so the Brazilian will have to really work on this aspect of his game as the Champions League returns.
It was not a great performance from Coutinho by any means but it was far from his worst, which says a lot about the season he is having.
It was refreshing to watch the Brazilian play confidently and attract a lot of attention from the Atletico defence.
He is certainly not in a best frame of minds to take on United, but a performance like this can do more good than harm to his confidence as he heads to Old Trafford.
Although the title has not been mathematically secured, Barca now hold an 11-point lead over their nearest challengers with just seven games remaining – and that gap is really worth 12 points as the leaders also hold the head-to-head advantage over second-placed Atletico – so it would take a freak sequence of results to stop them.
There were plenty of talking points to emerge from the action as Atletico’s ten men held firm for a long time before eventually being worn down – let’s review the best of the action.
SIMEONE GOES FOR IT DESPITE COSTA DISMISSAL
Visiting boss Diego Simeone pledged before the game that he would take an attacking approach, knowing that only a victory would be good enough to keep his team’s realistic title hopes alive.
And he was true to his word, with Atletico regularly pushing forward in the opening stages and enjoying several extended spells of possession.
Even when Diego Costa was dramatically sent off for dissent after half an hour, Simeone still would not yield to the temptation to adopt a more cautious approach.
Instead of shoring up his defence and sitting back, he took off right-back Santiago Arias and introduced another forward, Angel Correa, with midfielder Thomas Partey dropping back into defence as the team adopted a 4-3-2 shape.
It was inevitable that Atletico would have a lot less of the ball after going down to ten men, but they still showed attacking endeavour whenever the opportunity arose.
And Simeone made an even bolder decision after an hour, bringing on yet another forward as Alvaro Morata replaced left-back Filipe Luis and the team moving to a 4-2-3 formation.
OBLAK SHINES IN DEFEAT
There’s no doubt, though, that Costa’s red card was a key moment in the match and Simeone must be furious with his striker for getting himself sent off by launching into an unnecessary foul-mouthed tirade after an innocuous free-kick decision in a harmless midfield position.
With Barca able to use their man’s advantage to dominate possession, the second half in particular was an almost constant tide of pressure towards the Atletico goal, with the visitors only surviving as long as they did thanks to goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who underlined his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the world with a fabulous display.
The Slovenian shot-stopper had already made his first great save before Costa’s dismissal, diving low to his right and using a strong hand to repel a fierce low strike from Philippe Coutinho after the Brazilian ran onto a lay-off from Luis Suarez to shoot powerfully from 15 yards.
Plenty more saves followed from Oblak in the second half, and two in particular deserve mention: firstly as he flung himself sharply at Suarez’s feet to keep out a powerful drive, and then a cat-like pounce to his left to claw away a low effort from Messi which seemed destined for the bottom right corner.
SUAREZ AND MESSI DO IT AGAIN
Atletico’s determined resistance – or, to be more precise, Oblak’s – was finally broken by the most predictable of sources: Suarez and Messi. It would take something special to beat Oblak…and the South American strike duo certainly produced it.
With just five minutes remaining, Suarez struck first. Receiving the ball 25 yards from goal, he set up a shot on his right foot and hit it perfectly, arrowing the ball with power and perfect accuracy low and hard into the bottom right corner, hitting the inside of the post on its way in.
Messi duly followed course a minute later, racing from the halfway line and surging into the penalty area, where he withstood a challenge from Jose Maria Gimenez and ignored the attentions of Diego Godin to stroke a passed finish into the corner with ridiculously nonchalant ease.
They were both breathtaking goals, and for the second consecutive game Suarez and Messi rescued Barca with late goals having done exactly the same in Tuesday’s stunning draw at Villarreal.
And the victory also provided them with a timely psychological boost ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg trip to Manchester United…Chris Smalling, watch out.
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi were the goalscoring heroes while Diego Costa was the villain after getting himself sent off, but how did everyone else fare?
Check out our Atletico player ratings now.
ATLETICO MADRID 4-4-2
Oblak 8. Made a series of saves including fabulous low stops from Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. Unlucky to be a loser.
Arias 6. Regularly came forward to support the attack before he was sacrificed by Diego Simeone after the red card to Costa.
Gimenez 7. Fierce and committed, kicking and heading everything away but ultimately undone by the brilliance of Messi and Suarez.
Godin 6. In probably his last game at Camp Nou, got away with a bad back pass and struggled with Messi running at him.
Luis 6. Steady if unspectacular before being replaced after an hour as Simeone chased victory with Morata’s introduction.
Koke 6. Did a lot of the dirty work in midfield, unable to exert much impact going forward but tireless off the ball.
Partey 7. Showed skill and control in midfield. Moved to right-back after the dismissal of Costa and did well.
Rodri 7. Came to the fore after Costa’s red card, doing a great job to close down space and use the ball constructively.
Saul 6. Relatively restrained as he focused on defensive tasks in midfield, finishing up at left-back after Simeone’s rejigs.
Griezmann 6. Jeered by Barca fans but responded with a bright display. Sent an angled shot and a free-kick on target but lacking power.
Costa 5. Passed fit after injury and headed a tough early chance over before being sent off for dissent after half an hour.
Correa 6. Introduced as an attacking measure to replace the dismissed Costa, and worked hard without much attacking threat.
Morata 5. A second roll of the dice from Simeone, his movement caused some problems but he lacked bite in the box.
Juanfran 6. A sentimental late introduction from Simeone for a player likely to leave the club in the summer.