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Barcelona needed a late goal from Luis Suarez to maintain their unbeaten start to the season in a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.
The hosts had gone ahead in the first half thanks to a superb curling strike from Saul Niguez, but Suarez headed home Sergi Roberto’s cross in the 82nd minute to salvage a point.
Ernesto Valverde made changes to his team, with Andres Gomes the surprise inclusion. Spanish football writer Kieran Canning shared the two lineups:
Kieran Canning @KieranCanning
Andre Gomes the surprise selection by Valverde. Atletico at full-strength https://t.co/hjMhAtOpWa
Barca started brightly with Lionel Messi going close in the first minute, but the Argentinian could not quite get his feet right and scuffed a delfected just wide of the post.
Atletico then started to threaten, Antoine Griezmann twice testing goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with fierce efforts the Germany international did well to keep out.
However, there was little Ter Stegen could do about the opener. Saul Niguez cut onto his right foot in an inside-left position before curling a low shot past the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner.
Opta highlighted the quality of Atletico’s passing in the build-up to the opener:
18 – There were 18 passes in the build-up for Saul Ñiguez’s goal, the most before a goal vs Barça in La Liga since at least 05/06. Hypnosis. https://t.co/Azl3SejW8a
Luis Suarez looked to have a good chance to equalise from a Messi free-kick but could not make contact with the ball, as noted by ESPN FC’s Dermot Corrigan:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Suarez seemed to have free header just six yards out from Messi free-kick, but mistimed jump completely. Hands on head after.
Barca were dominating possession but struggling to fashion any chances, lacking pace and invention in attack, with Atletico by far the sharper of the two sides.
Football writer Rik Sharma highlighted how Barcelona were not seeing the best of Ivan Rakitic:
Rik Sharma @riksharma_
Rakitic has the occasional game where you think otherwise, but for the most part has lost his way.
Atletico continued to threaten after the break, and Yannick Carrasco forced Ter Stegen into another save before Griezmann hammered a shot just wide.
But Barcelona remained in the game. Jan Oblak saved well from Suarez before Messi curled a free-kick over the wall and onto the post, the ball rebounding to safety.
Opta noted how often Messi has been denied by the woodwork already this season:
6 – Lionel Messi has hit the woodwork more often than any other player in the top five European leagues this season. Misfortune. https://t.co/8SAvg7tfOw
Valverde sent on Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto for Andres Iniesta and Nelson Semedo, a substitution that surprised Corrigan:
Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan
Barca double swap – Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto, for Iniesta [wowsers] and Semedo. Andre Gomes stays on.
Barca continued to create half-chances, with Oblak saving from Messi and Samuel Umtiti before Valverde made his final substitution, sending on Paulinho for Rakitic.
The visitors’ pressure eventually paid off with less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining. Roberto was allowed time to cross and found Suarez, who headed the ball down into the ground at the far post and past Oblak.
The Uruguayan then might have won it, but he could not quite connect with Gomes’ cross on the slide.
There was still time for more late drama when Barcelona won a free-kick on the edge of the area after Griezmann brought down Messi. The Argentinian could only fire straight at a grateful Oblak with the last kick of the game, though.
The entertaining draw ensured both teams remain unbeaten in La Liga, although Barca have seen their lead at the top cut to five points after Real Madrid won 2-1 at Getafe earlier.
Barca were far from their best, lacking invention, width and creativity, but again Valverde’s substitutions helped change the game, and they will surely be happy to depart with a point.