Joao Felix’s exquisite chip secured a crucial 1-0 triumph for Barcelona over Atletico Madrid on Sunday, intensifying the La Liga title race.
The Portuguese forward, currently on loan at Barca from Atletico, openly expressed his satisfaction at leaving the Spanish capital this summer, and he capitalized on the opportunity to haunt his parent club at the Olympic Stadium.
Facing pre-game criticism from some Atletico players, Felix heeded the motivational call from Barca coach Xavi Hernandez. The forward’s goal not only helped Barca regain the third spot from Atletico but also closed the gap behind league leaders Real Madrid and second-placed Girona to four points.
Atletico’s struggles away against the champions in La Liga persisted, with their winless streak stretching to 18 matches since 2006. Despite their optimism, Barcelona, coming off a recent revival with a Champions League win over Porto, demonstrated dominance in the first half.
Taking control from the outset, Barcelona saw Raphinha’s attempt go wide and Robert Lewandowski’s shot blocked by Mario Hermoso. Joao Felix broke the deadlock in the 28th minute, skillfully navigating Nahuel Molina’s challenge and chipping the ball over Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Felix’s celebration in front of the disgruntled visiting fans added to the intensity, while Diego Simeone appeared visibly displeased on the big screens. Axel Witsel’s booking for a foul on Felix hinted at a desire for payback, and Barcelona’s control continued with Koke receiving a caution for a cynical foul on Raphinha.
Although Felix had a near miss for a second goal, Oblak denied him this time. Despite appeals for a penalty after a challenge from Hermoso, the referee remained unmoved. Barcelona’s midfield trio of Ilkay Gundogan, Pedri, and Frenkie de Jong impressed, maintaining control.
Raphinha’s attempt hitting the post in the second half added excitement, but the attendance fell short of expectations, perhaps influenced by the colder winter evenings and the late kick-off. Despite Antoine Griezmann’s hard work for Atletico, he failed to find the net against his former club, and Memphis Depay’s free-kick was tipped over by Barcelona’s goalkeeper Inaki Pena.
Lewandowski missed an opportunity to seal Barcelona’s victory, but the profligacy didn’t prove costly this time. Pena’s save against Angel Correa in stoppage time secured the three points for Barcelona, leaving Atletico trailing by three points in fourth place, and the top two by seven.