Saul, Jan Oblak sensational, though Atletico settle for draw vs. Barca
A frenetic, high-octane game between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona ended 1-1 on an entertaining Saturday night in the Spanish capital. Saul Niguez's sumptuous opening goal in the first-half gave Atleti a deserved lead as they looked the better side, despite a number of players on both sides looking slightly nervous and not up to their usual standards.
Yet as has been the case now in both of Atletico's big games at their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, a late slip-up saw them pegged back by Barcelona's Luis Suarez, and come the final whistle, they were fortunate to escape with a point after Lionel Messi wasted a free kick with the last kick of the game.
Saul. What a player he is. Ditto Jan Oblak. The Slovenia international goalkeeper once again showed why he is one of the best in the business.
Nicolas Gaitan and Fernando Torres. There is no way either of them should be even close to getting a game for a club with the kind of aspirations Atletico have. Diego Costa and Vitolo's arrivals cannot come quick enough.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- A tough one. Diego Simeone got it so right from the start but his substitutions did not work and ultimately cost Atleti. Loses a mark for his persistence with Gaitan and Torres, faith that is not being repaid. The obvious sub to make was the pace of Kevin Gameiro.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jan Oblak, 8 -- Made three outstanding second-half stops and did all he could to earn the points. Helpless for Barca's goal.
DF Juanfran, 6 -- Not helped by a referee who seemed intent on awarding Jordi Alba a free-kick every time he theatrically flung himself to the floor. Solid at the back but lacked his usual zip going forward.
DF Stefan Savic, 6 -- Made up for an early dodgy pass with a good last-ditch block, however you ultimately should question how Suarez was able to ghost in unmarked between himself and his partner.
DF Diego Godin, 8 -- Looked somewhere near his best. Won every 50-50 challenge and was excellent on the ball coming out from the back.
DF Filipe Luis, 7 -- Very good for the large part and coped well with Lionel Messi and later Gerard Deulofeu. Goal came down his side but that was not his fault.
MF Koke, 7 -- Worked hard and helped Los Rojiblancos dominate the middle of the park. His final ball was slightly awry, but you could probably say that about all 22 players on the pitch.
MF Gabi, 7 -- Given a very harsh early booking for an innocuous trip on Messi but did not allow it to stop his normal game. Mopped up in front of the back four and his cool head was missed in the last 10 minutes as he was subbed.
MF Saul Niguez, 8 -- Arguably the best player on the pitch. A brilliantly taken goal capped an all-round display that shows exactly why Andres Iniesta's days in the Spain national team are numbered.
MF Yannick Carrasco, 5 -- His decision-making is completely AWOL. A neat touch to Saul in the build-up to the goal aside, he invariably took the wrong decisions in possession. Having said that, Los Colchoneros looked noticeably poorer without the Belgian on the pitch. He makes things happen, even if the end product frustrates the life out of you.
FW Antoine Griezmann, 4 -- Apart from one menacing run early on when he should have scored, the France international was subdued and consistently made the wrong moves. Culminated with him giving away a free-kick in the 93rd minute for an inexplicably stupid foul on the edge of his own box, and was lucky not to be punished by Messi.
FW Angel Correa, 6 -- Worked hard and was always available, yet question marks will remain over his effectiveness in the starting XI as opposed to as an impact sub.
MF Nico Gaitan (for Correa), 3 -- Why? Genuinely, what is the point? Did absolutely nothing other than not track the run of Sergi Roberto, allowing him all the time and space in the world to cross for the equaliser. You may as well play with 10 men.
MF Thomas Partey (for Carrasco), NR -- Struggled to keep up with the frenetic pace of the game once he came on
FW Fernando Torres (for Gabi), NR -- Do not think he touched the ball and Atleti looked weaker without the man he replaced.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.