Joao Felix’s superb dinked finish earned Barcelona a vital 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday in the La Liga title race.
The Portuguese forward, on loan at Barcelona from Atletico, made no secret of his pleasure to escape the Spanish capital this summer and made his parent club pay at the Olympic Stadium.
Felix was criticised by some Atletico players ahead of the game and Barca coach Xavi Hernandez called on him to use those words as inspiration, which he duly did.
The forward’s goal allowed Barca to reclaim third place from Atletico, now trailing leaders Real Madrid and second place Girona by four points in the La Liga points table.
Atletico have not won away against the champions in La Liga since 2006, a run now stretching to 18 matches, but arrived thinking this could be the time to snap that streak.
Since crumbling to a defeat in the Clasico by Real Madrid at the end of October, Barcelona have struggled for form and confidence.
Barcelona started well, carving out chances and Felix broke the deadlock after 28 minutes, taking a brilliant touch to ride Nahuel Molina’s challenge and then dinking the ball over Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Felix celebrated with arms aloft, standing on the advertising hoardings in front of the angry visiting supporters, while Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone appeared disgruntled as he flashed up on the big screens.
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The 24-year-old forward, a club record signing at 126 million euros ($137 million) in 2019, never settled in the capital and did not click with Simeone’s management and playing style.
“It was spontaneous… in the heat of the game and it was like a relief, for everything I lived through this summer,” Felix told Movistar about his celebration.
“Every week I’m talked about, whether for good or bad, I do my job, without looking at what they say or think.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Axel Witsel was soon booked for hacking Felix to the ground shortly after.
Felix came close to a second with a prodded effort from Ilkay Gundogan’s cut-back, but this time Oblak denied him.
Gundogan impressed in midfield alongside fit-again duo Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, as Barcelona controlled the game.
Raphinha clipped the post at the start of the second half to get Barcelona fans out of their seats.
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Despite their high-calibre opponents, the attendance fell short of 35,000 and was the club’s poorest this season, with supporters perhaps chastened by the colder winter evenings and the late kick-off.
Atletico improved in the second half but not by enough to force an equaliser.
Talisman Antoine Griezmann worked hard but could not find the net against his old employers — he has not netted in 14 games against Barca for the Rojiblancos.
Memphis Depay, another ex-Barcelona player, came closest for Atletico with a free-kick tipped over by Inaki Pena, between the sticks for the hosts in place of the hurt Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Robert Lewandowski should have wrapped up Barcelona’s victory but pulled an effort wide late on – he only has three goals in his last 10 games for the club across all competitions.
Atletico, fourth, trail Barca by three points and the top two by seven.
Earlier winless bottom side Almeria were held 0-0 at home by 10-man Real Betis, seventh, on Sunday.
Struggling Sevilla, 15th, drew 1-1 with Villarreal and have not won in 10 matches under new coach Diego Alonso between La Liga and the Champions League.