Lionel Messi‘s 600th career goal sank Atletico Madrid 1-0 and ensured Barcelona stretched their lead at the top of the table to eight points.
The Argentine struck with a trademark free-kick as Barca edged past their nearest rivals to take a huge stride towards regaining the La Liga title.
Atletico could not secure a victory which would have reduced the deficit to two.
So what effect did Ernesto Valverde and Diego Simeone’s tactics have on their respective team’s performance and ultimately, the result?
The Barcelona coach set his side up in his customary 4-4-where on earth is Messi?-1 formation. The Argentine was given free rein to roam, dropping into pockets of space all across the final third.
Openings were hard to come by in the early stages but with Philippe Coutinho taking more control of proceedings as the game went on and linking up with Messi well, Barcelona began to pose a greater threat. The hosts came under a bit of pressure in the second half but were always dangerous on the break.
The Atletico boss mirrored his opposite number’s system by fielding a 4-4-2 as well, except Antoine Griezmann wasn’t involved enough to have anywhere near the same impact that Messi was able to at the other end of the pitch.
Along with Diego Costa, the Frenchman was isolated up front for much of the game while Barcelona bossed the midfield. Atletico threw bodies forward out of necessity in the last 20 minutes and started to get on the end of things but couldn’t draw level.
Philippe Coutinho hasn’t always gotten the nod since he became available playing him in this clash paid off. He operated between the lines excellently, taking charge and conducting play in the final third. Looks settled already.
With an hour played, it didn’t look as if Atletico had any way back into the game but his attacking substitutions finally gave them a threat. It nearly paid off as well but for Gameiro’s goal being ruled out for offside for a call against Costa.
His substitutions were questionable, replacing the injured Andres Iniesta with Andre Gomes – who has been woefully out of form – in Barca’s biggest game of their league campaign. Coutinho was dangerous on the break but was hooked for Paulinho.
Man-marking Messi may not have been the answer, but Atletico didn’t keep tabs on the Argentine at all who had it all his own way. Maybe playing Griezmann from wide and adding another midfielder would’ve helped his side cope with the Barca star.
The Barca boss was spot on with the way he set his team up but raised a few eyebrows with his substitutions. However, he got the result and that’s all that matters. Eight points clear, title within reach.
Surprisingly sat off Barcelona in the first half and surrendered possession. His team didn’t have its trademark bite. Made sure his side went for it at the end but his lack of attention to Messi was worrying.