Barca loan star Felix makes Atletico pay in title race
BARCELONA, Spain (AFP) — 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 Barca from Atletico, made no secret of his pleasure at escaping the Spanish capital this summer, and made his parent club pay at 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.
“He made the difference for the team again. He gave everything — working hard, stealing the ball back — I am very happy for him,” Xavi told reporters.
“I told him to be calm; this extra motivation sometimes speeds you up and you cross the line.”
Xavi hailed his players’ performance as a whole.
“The team had personality; we played very well today. Maybe it’s our best game of the season, a complete one, I would say.
“It’s a very positive sign of what we can and should do in every game — this is what Barca should be.”
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.
The 24-year-old forward, a club record signing at 126 million euros (US$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.”