Just like old times; well, a little bit, at least. Adama Traoré is back, Xavi Hernández is back, and Dani Alves is back. Even Luis Suárez was back in front of the Camp Nou fans and scoring, another familiar face to go with the new ones here. It would be a stretch to suggest that FC Barcelona are back – it would be absurd, in fact – but this victory was their first against Atlético Madrid in five meetings, lifting them over Diego Simeone’s side and into a Champions League place they have not looked like occupying all season.
Just as importantly, it was as much fun as they have had for a long time. Traoré, the kid who played his last and until now only league game for the club in the 2013-14 season, returned for his second debut and for a while ripped into Atlético, providing an assist as Barcelona came from behind to win 4-2 . Alves, who last scored here in 2015, assisted, scored, leapt into Xavi’s arms, and was sent off. And even Jordi Alba got on the scoresheet on an afternoon where fans might have wondered what year it is.
Mostly, though, they just enjoyed it, singing their way to the final whistle, wondering if maybe, just maybe, a team may be forming here after all. Because if their vulnerability remains, if they were made to suffer a little in the second half, this was an enjoyable afternoon in the sun, one that perhaps promised more.
They had only been out there a hundred seconds when Traoré was dumped on the floor for the first time – and, it would turn out, the last. If that suggested that Atlético were aware of the threat he could pose, it didn’t mean that they were able to stop him. He just got up, dusted himself down, and ran at them over and over again, a storm brewing on the right that Yannick Carrasco momentarily bamboozling him with a nutmeg could not avoid. That even Carrasco scoring to give Atlético an early lead couldn’t, in fact.
A neatly weighted pass from Suarez made it. Back in front of the Camp Nou fans for the first time, he bent the ball into the path of Yannick Carrasco to sweep first time beyond Marc Andre ter Stegen from close range. The game was just seven minutes and Simeone’s side had the lead but it didn’t last. And if Carrasco was decisive there, attacking on the right, as time went on, he would appear more often in the opposite corner, trying to help Mario Hermoso’s attempt to hold back the tide.
Almost immediately, Barcelona were level. Alves and Alba – combined age, over 70 – connected, he Brazilian clipping a gorgeous ball over to the other full-back to volley an equally gorgeous shot into the net. It looked like that, at last – in truth it might have hit his shin – and Alba was off and running, gesturing for his criticisms to keep talking. Why would they? Watching this was much more fun.
They weren’t even halfway through the first period and it could have been 2-2 or 3-3 early. Instead, it was 2-1 to Barcelona. Joâo Felix curled just wide and then scuffed a glorious chance deep inside the Barcelona area. Between those two efforts, Traoré had set off, stopped, set off again and clipped an impeccable cross onto the head of Gavi. Next, Pedri skied his effort. Barcelona had the ball, and they moved it fast. Too fast for Atlético, Jan Oblak and Carrasco almost tying themselves in knots soon after.
Traoré tore into Hermoso, especially when Alves came to join him. At 38, the legs and the lungs may not work the way they once did but the head does, the feet too. Nobody reads the game like him, the awareness and intelligence an all-too-overlooked part of his armor. His filtered pass saw Ferran Torres hit over and just before half-time he provided the free-kick from which Gerard Piqué headed against the bar. Torres could not connect with the rebound, but Ronald Araújo could, smashing in the third.
Alves then had a moment of his own, one that was all of theirs. He crashed in the shot after neat work from Gavi, 21 years his junior, and the Camp Nou almost came down. Racing to the touchline, wearing that grin and chased by his teammates, Alves embraced Xavi – a teammate last time he was here, his coach now – and then everyone else, too. They were enjoying this, the volume rising only to be silenced when the man who scored 198 goals for them now scored against them for the second time. He might have got another not long after, but sliced the kind of shot that usually ends up in the net.
Atlético, though, were awake now, given hope: all the more so when Alves was sent off with 20 minutes to go after he caught Carrasco high on the calf with a full set of studs. Alves left, shaking his head, the crowd chanting his name but it was a poor challenge, an error that threatened to be costly. Atlético had reacted well and were taking the game to a team that still look vulnerable at the back. The threat never fully materialized, though, and Barcelona saw it out, noise rising around this arena. It seemed it was a match now but then it had been from the start and, boy, was it good. A bit like it used to be.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.