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Barcelona scrapes by Atlético Madrid 1-0 to remain in firm control of La Liga title race

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FC Barcelona scraped by Atlético Madrid 1-0 at the Camp Nou to extend its lead at the top of La Liga over eternal rival Real Madrid to 11 points.

Ferrán Torres’ goal in the 44th minute made the difference, ensuring Atlético continued its 17-year winless drought – with 8 draws and 15 losses – at the Camp Nou.

While the Blaugrana were still missing Ousmane Dembélé, Sergi Roberto and Andreas Christensen, the return of Frenkie de Jong from a hamstring strain strengthened Barça manager Xavi’s squad ahead of what was expected to be a stern test on a warm, sunny afternoon in northeastern Spain.

After his team’s 0-0 draw with Getafe in Madrid, Xavi said his team played poorly because it was “accustomed to playing without sun.”

After being derided on social media throughout the week, the Barça legend doubled down on Friday ahead of the match, saying, “Even if they make a bunch of memes about me, the sun bothers me … I’m not going to stop (complaining).”

The sunny conditions did indeed seem to be getting the better of Barça as Atlético bolted right out of the gate with Antoine Griezmann hitting the crossbar with an effort not even a minute into the match, but the ball was just centimeters too high to bounce into Marc-André ter Stegen’s net.

Barça’s first real threat of the match came in the 24th minute as Robert Lewandowski played the ball through to Torres, whose dangerous cross was fortuitously deflected by Atleti keeper Jan Oblak out of the danger zone.

In the 35th minute, the Colchoneros again seemed to be gaining control of the match as the ball dropped to Griezmann whose great shot on the half-turn was brilliantly saved by ter Stegen to keep the scoreline level.

Just when Barça’s domination of possession in the first half seemed to be fruitless, the first goal materialized near the stroke of half-time. Raphinha passed the ball back into the middle of the pitch to an unmarked Torres at the top of the area, who took his time before finishing past Oblak to score Barcelona’s first goal in 334 minutes since its 4-0 victory over Elche on April 1.

A back-and-forth second half

But Atlético didn’t back down and pushed for an equalizer after the half-time break; Yannick Carrasco had his curving shot, which was heading towards goal, tipped over the bar in the 54th minute.

Barcelona seemed to turn its game up another notch when star midfielder Pedri made his long-awaited return from injury in the 60th minute, giving the Blaugrana a more fluid and creative attack.

Raphinha missed a sitter in the 72nd minute after Lewandowski teed him up with a brilliant cross, which almost came to haunt Barcelona as Ter Stegen was forced to make another brilliant save just one minute later to deny Griezmann’s back heel effort off a good Álvaro Morata cross into the box.

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Atlético players clamored for a penalty in the 91st minute after a headed ball was deflected off Sergio Busquets’ arm in the area, but the video assistant referee refused to review the play.

A flurry of Barça fouls allowed several Atleti attacks in the final minutes of time added on, but the Colchoneros couldn’t make the most of the opportunities.

Oblak told reporters after the match that the wasted chances left the team ruing an otherwise a solid performance.

“The feelings we get aren’t the best. In the first half, we didn’t play badly, we were pretty good and they scored one in the last minute,” Oblak said. “In the second half, there were chances, but the feeling we have aren’t the best. We lost and we can’t say much more than that.”

“The team worked really hard, the crowd supported us and we won,” goalscorer Torres told reporters after the match. “The win gives us a lot of confidence. Atlético was on a good run of form and it’s important for us to have won this match.”

The win means Barcelona remains in firm control in the La Liga title race with eight matches remaining and an 11-point lead ahead of Real Madrid.

After the match, Pedri told reporters that Barça has “eight finals left” and that the Blaugrana “have to go match by match,” with Xavi adding that it was an important win towards securing the title against a strong team.

“We normally don’t concede very much, but Atlético is on an extraordinary run of form lately and that shows you the state of our team. It’s a crucial victory for us,” the manager said.

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