Messi is Barcelona's saviour once more as Griezmann flops on Atletico return
For once, the spotlight started on someone other than Lionel Messi, but it found its way back to the Argentine in the end.
Barcelona’s talisman’s brilliant goal, in the 86th minute, sent his team back to the top of La Liga as the champions eked out a 1-0 at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano fortress.
All eyes were on Antoine Griezmann, who started on the left of Barcelona’s attack on his return to face his former side.
The French striker controversially joined Barcelona in July from Atletico for €120 million after a dragged-out two-year saga which left nobody happy in the Spanish capital.
Griezmann has struggled to make his mark at Barcelona, with just five goals in his first 17 matches before this, and it was no different back ‘home’, where he is persona non grata.
That was shown by the plush toy rats left on his plaque outside the stadium - the same reception Thibaut Courtois got on his return with Real Madrid.
“Griezmann, die,” chanted some Atletico fans before the game, showing exactly how little affection remains for the forward in these parts, bringing the fire on a wet night in Madrid.
The first half passed by in a whirlwind, with Atletico having the better of it but unable to capitalise as Griezmann and Barcelona disappointed.
An early foray from Mario Hermoso saw his cross deflected onto his own post by Junior Firpo, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen left helpless.
That’s not a word you can often apply to the German goalkeeper, who produced two sublime stops to keep the hosts at bay at an intense Wanda Metropolitano.
The first was to deny Hermoso again, from close range. Atletico’s defender thought he had scored, the replay revealing it written all over his face, which turned to shock as Ter Stegen made a remarkable reflex stop.
Then the goalkeeper produced a volleyball scoop to keep Alvaro Morata’s header not only out of the goal, but away to safety.
Barcelona threatened for the first time in the 25th minute, with one breakaway ending with Luis Suarez dummying a Messi pass, and Ivan Rakitic seeing his low effort repelled by Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
The Slovenian is no slouch himself - arguably this match featured the two best goalkeepers in the world - but Griezmann didn’t manage to test Oblak.
“You wanted to have a name and you forgot to be a man,” read a banner held up by Atletico fans. It sounds better in Spanish, rhyming: “Querias tener un nombre y se te olvido ser hombre."
Griezmann had the perfect opportunity to hit back at his detractors in the second half but fluffed his lines.
Barcelona broke at speed and Messi’s sensational charge down the middle of the pitch split Atletico in half. He fed Suarez, who looked up and arced a fine cross to Griezmann, free in the box.
It was the striker’s big moment, but the pressure got to him and he bludgeoned a volley into the stands, high over the crossbar.
That might have cost Barcelona the game were it not for their talisman Messi, who scored his 30th goal against Atletico in 39 games.
Messi combined with Suarez, just as they did to lethal effect in midweek against Borussia Dortmund, playing a one-two then stroking the ball home from the edge of the box, into the bottom corner of the helpless Oblak’s net.
As usual it was Messi who absolved Barcelona of their sins, fittingly on the eve of the Ballon d’Or awards, when he is expected to pick up his sixth, while Griezmann continues to wander in the wilderness.
He was left in no doubt that this is no longer his home, but Barcelona isn’t yet, either.