Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets was surprised by the extent of Atletico Madrid’s defensive game plan on Saturday, labelling it “not that much fun” as the two title rivals played out a 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Substitute Ousmane Dembele scored in the 90th minute to cancel out Diego Costa’s header and keep Barca ahead of Atletico at the top of the table by a solitary point.
It was a game of few chances as Barca struggled to break down their typically organised hosts and Costa’s 77th-minute opener was the match’s first shot on target.
“They sat back waiting to counter-attack,” Busquets said to reporters. “We weren’t able to get our passes between their lines, they didn’t let us. They had two banks of four and they stuck together really well.
“That’s how Atletico set up for games. We knew that, but we didn’t expect it to be so exaggerated. It’s their idea. It’s not that much fun, but you have to respect it.”
Barca defender Jordi Alba also feels that with forwards like Costa and Antoine Griezmann Atletico could play a different brand of football, although he appreciates why they stick to their roots.
“They have the players to play more attacking football, in my opinion, but that’s the style which has given them success and they won’t change it,” he said. “They defend really well, it’s difficult to break them down.”
Atletico’s approach looked to have earned coach Diego Simeone a first league win over Barca in 14 attempts until substitute Dembele’s late leveller.
The Frenchman was not even in the squad for the last game before the international break, a loss to Real Betis. He was left out after missing training on the Thursday before the fixture.
Local media reports claimed he missed the session because he was up playing computer games with friends until late and his professionalism has been called into question.
The goal against Atletico — his seventh of the season — was the perfect response and coach Ernesto Valverde hopes to see more of the 21-year-old’s “huge talent” as the season develops.
“[Dembele’s] a great player and he has many assets to his game, among them goalscoring — he’s proving that,” Valverde said in his postgame news conference.
“He’s been spoken about a lot, excessively. It’s true he wasn’t called up for the last game but he’s a player that we have to help to make sure that things work out and that he helps the team.
“We expect a lot from him because he has a huge talent. He’s made some key contributions this season and he has things that others don’t: he can beat men, shoot with both feet and he has character.”
Busquets added: “The goal will do [Dembele] good. He has to adapt both in his private life and in terms of football [to Barcelona] but we have to help him because he’s really young — and we know that he can help us a lot.”