Are Barcelona back? Traore shines as Xavi era ignited by Atletico Madrid win

Barcelona celebrate 2021-22Getty Images

Match statistics: Barcelona 4-2 Atletico Madrid

It takes months for a team to be moulded into shape by a coach, for a fallen giant to be resurrected.

But a rebirth has to start somewhere, and Barcelona’s thrilling 4-2 victory over Atletico Madrid on Sunday felt like a new beginning.

From turning around an initial deficit, to racking up a a three-goal lead and then holding on with 10 men for the final quarter of the game following Dani Alves' red card, it was a character-building afternoon at a fiery, revitalised Camp Nou.

The victory pulls Barca into the top four for the first time in months, leapfrogging opponents Atletico by two points.

It was a fresh start for Adama Traore too, with the loan signing from Wolves unleashed on Atletico to great effect.

His presence on the pitch seemed to energise Barcelona to a remarkable extent, with this performance unrecognisable from the drab display at Alaves in their previous encounter before the international break.

It took a perfect storm of events for the former La Masia star to be given a path back to the club, but however unlikely the reunion, Traore was determined to take his chance with both hands.

Adama Traore Barcelona 2021-22
Getty Images

In the opening minutes he whistled past Mario Hermoso and was fouled by the left-back, the start of a long afternoon for the Spaniard. Almost 75,000 fans - one of the biggest attendances of the season - roared.

Yet out nowhere, Atletico took the lead. Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba were caught out and Yannick Carrasco slotted past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It looked like Barca were falling victim to the same poor defending they have been plagued with all season, which got them into this mess in the first place.

That will need to be changed, but in the January transfer window they could not make defensive signings and instead brought in three attackers, in the shape of Traore, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres, plus right-back Alves, although his comfort zone is in opposition territory, as evidenced by his goal and assist here, as well as his defensive deficiencies that eventually led to his dismissal.

The attack was the area Xavi and sporting director Mateu Alemany hit in January, and it was the area clearly improved in this match as the Catalans earned a statement victory.

Players who have been criticised in recent weeks stood up and performed; Alba lashing Barcelona level with a spectacular volley from Alves’ cross, while Frenkie de Jong put in his best performance of the Xavi era.

It was Barcelona’s too, at least for the first 60 minutes, when Traore was on the pitch.

The Wolves winger set up the second goal with a surge down the right and cross for Gavi to head home. Stretching the pitch by staying wider than Ousmane Dembele might, Traore is already contributing.

His direct attacking brought back the thrills Barcelona fans have been denied since Lionel Messi’s departure, and the performance as a whole was reminiscent of the Blaugrana's 3-1 win over Atletico in January 2015.

Then, a heavily-doubted team clicked into gear, with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Messi all scoring, sparking a Barca revival that saw the team surge to the treble. This win cannot do the same, but it could be the start of something significant.

Dembele, for his part, remained on the bench throughout, his name jeered when read out among the substitutes pre-game, and Xavi decided to keep him in reserve. He had enough firepower on the pitch, and the third goal arrived shortly before half-time when Ronald Araujo rammed home, with the Atletico defence in shambles.

Alves added the fourth after the break after good work by Gavi, and it seemed Barca were set to go on a rampage, but the team tired in the second half - something else for Xavi to keep working on.

Former Barcelona hitman Suarez headed home and then Alves earned a foolish red in the 69th minute for an ugly lunge on the electric Carrasco. Even though it stunted Xavi's team, it also allowed them to show their mettle, with De Jong in particular throwing himself into tackles to help protect the lead.

Article continues below

Aubameyang was left without much chance to contribute on his debut as a substitute, but blocked a couple of Atletico long balls forward to help stave off the visitors’s onslaught.

Barcelona held on for a victory which could be seen as a six-pointer in the battle to secure a Champions League spot.

It will be worth a lot more than that, though, if it truly is the start of the rebirth the fans badly crave.