FC Barcelona’s woes continued as Quique Setién’s side were held to a frustrating 2-2 draw by Atlético Madrid on Tuesday night at the Camp Nou.
Setién’s team were looking to put their dismal display against Celta Vigo last time out behind them, and stay on course as they look to secure a second successive La Liga title at the end of the campaign, but their hopes suffered yet another blow.
Diego Costa diverted a Lionel Messi corner into his net on 12 minutes as Barça made it 1-0. Six minutes later, highly-rated midfielder Saúl Ñíguez levelled for Diego Simeone’s men from the penalty spot after Yannick Carrasco was fouled by Arturo Vidal.
Messi then netted his 700th career goal from 12 yards with an audacious panenka penalty to give the hosts the lead once again on the night. But Nélson Semedo appeared to have clipped the heels of Belgium international Carrasco mid-way through the second half, resulting in another Atlético penalty which again was converted by Ñíguez, despite Marc-Andre ter Stegen getting a hand to it.
Here are five things we learned from the match…
Messi reaches 700th landmark
Having recently turned 33-years-old, the Argentinian, who donned a fresh haircut ahead of the match, managed to secure his 700th career goal and unfortunately for him, in front of no fans. It was a whopping 630th goal in 724 appearances for the Catalan giants. Messi’s Panenka-style spot-kick past Jan Oblak down the middle was also goal number 26 for him against Atlético in La Liga.
It was not enough, however, as Barça surrendered the lead twice and lost more ground in the race for the domestic league title. A dejected Messi, who was booked midway through the second half for kicking the ball away, quickly strolled off the Camp Nou turf with his head down, once the final whistle was blown and his frustration summed up Barça’s night.
FC Barcelona pay the penalty, literally
It took two penalties from Simeone’s side to snatch a point and heap more misery on Barça. First, Vidal hauled down Carrasco with Ñíguez stepping up to fire home.
The 23-year-old Spain international later added a second for his side from the spot as Carrasco was again at the forefront, having been clipped from behind by right-back Semedo.
Barça goalkeeper ter Stegen will no doubt feel disappointed having not kept it out, but could only see the ball roll under him into the corner of the net despite his best efforts to try and keep it out.
Riqui Puig shows there is life after Arthur Melo
Strangely, the club are swapping 23-year-old midfielder Arthur for an ageing midfielder in Miralem Pjanić at the end of the season with the deals already agreed between the club and Juventus. There will be a hole left to fill when the Brazilian departs the Camp Nou, but Puig has proved he is capable of filling that void.
The 20-year-old La Masia graduate pulled the strings in midfield throughout and was Barça’s best player on the pitch. His link-up play out wide to the fullbacks and with captain Messi was similar to that of Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta.
Yes, Puig has a long way to go to reach those heights, of course, but having started both this game and the 2-2 draw in the last match away at Celta Vigo, it is positive signs for Barça fans having been given glimpses of his potential in the middle of the park.
Setién faces major problems on and off the pitch
It is clear things are not going smoothly off the pitch, but it was evident in the 61-year-old’s teams performance once again this evening, that there are problems on it, too.
Whilst Puig was a standout performer, it was an abject performance from Barça who were far from their best, but this was partly down to the game plan of the tactician, Simeone. Resolute at the back, Barça were hit several times on the counter-attack and overall it was a below-par performance – not one worthy of title winners.
FC Barcelona’s ageing squad are not getting any younger and it is looking like worrying times ahead, and relying on Messi, is certainly not the answer.
Antoine Griezmann is a major concern
Given just four minutes, having entered the pitch on 90 minutes, Griezmann touched the ball just twice. The 29-year-old, who would have been eager and naturally motivated to start the match against his former teammates, watched on from the stands as he saw his former employers come back twice before he was unleashed right at the death.
With his confidence shot, it remains to be seen whether the Frenchman will be at the Camp Nou next season, given the fact some fans have already lost faith in the World cup winner.
It looks to be an uphill battle for FC Barcelona if they are to secure the La Liga title this season. The hope is that Real Madrid drop points between now and the end of the campaign and Barça win all their remaining games and overtake Los Blancos to regain top spot and clinch the domestic prize.
That said, a damaging result against Atlético, means the players, manager and coaching staff must regroup and be prepared for a tough test against Villarreal on Sunday at the Estadio de la Cerámica. All must come together as a collective, just like champions do.