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Barcelona loan star Joao Felix strikes down Atletico Madrid in title race

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Joao Felix’s superb dinked finish earned Barcelona a vital 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday in the La Liga title race.

The Portuguese forward, on loan at Barca from Atletico, made no secret of his pleasure to escape the Spanish capital this summer and made his parent club pay at the Olympic Stadium.

Felix was criticised by some Atletico players ahead of the game and Barca coach Xavi Hernandez called on him to use those words as inspiration, which he duly did.

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The forward’s goal allowed Barca to reclaim third place from Atletico, now trailing leaders Real Madrid and second place Girona by four points.

“He made the difference for the team again, he gave everything, working hard, stealing the ball back, I am very happy for him,” Xavi told reporters.

“I told him to be calm, this extra motivation sometimes speeds you up and you cross the line.”

Xavi hailed his players’ performance as a whole.

“The team had personality, we played very well today -– maybe it’s our best game of the season, a complete one, I would say.

“It’s a very positive sign of what we can and should do in every game – this is what Barca should be.”

Atletico have not won away against the champions in La Liga since 2006, a run now stretching to 18 matches, but arrived thinking this could be the time to snap that streak.

Since crumbling to a defeat in the Clasico by Real Madrid at the end of October, Barcelona have struggled for form and confidence.

Barcelona started well, carving out chances and Felix broke the deadlock after 28 minutes, taking a brilliant touch to ride Nahuel Molina’s challenge and then dinking the ball over Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Felix celebrated with arms aloft, standing on the advertising hoardings in front of the angry visiting supporters, while Rojiblancos coach Diego Simeone appeared disgruntled as he flashed up on the big screens.

The 24-year-old forward, a club record signing at 126 million euros ($137 million) in 2019, never settled in the capital and did not click with Simeone’s management and playing style.

“It was spontaneous… in the heat of the game and it was like a relief, for everything I lived through this summer,” Felix told Movistar about his celebration.

“Every week I’m talked about, whether for good or bad, I do my job, without looking at what they say or think.”

– Payback –
Perhaps not coincidentally, Axel Witsel was soon booked for hacking Felix to the ground shortly after.

Felix came close to a second with a prodded effort from Ilkay Gundogan’s cut-back, but this time Oblak denied him.

Gundogan impressed in midfield alongside fit-again duo Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, as Barcelona controlled the game.

Raphinha clipped the post at the start of the second half to get Barcelona fans out of their seats.

Despite their high-calibre opponents, the attendance fell short of 35,000 and was the club’s poorest this season, with supporters perhaps chastened by the colder winter evenings and the late kick-off.

Atletico improved in the second half but not by enough to force an equaliser.

Talisman Antoine Griezmann worked hard but could not find the net against his old employers — he has not netted in 14 games against Barca for the Rojiblancos.

Memphis Depay, another ex-Barcelona player, came closest for Atletico with a free-kick tipped over by Inaki Pena, between the sticks for the hosts in place of the hurt Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

“They started better, they had more personality with the ball,” admitted Simeone.

“The team improved and had the chances to equalise.”

Robert Lewandowski should have wrapped up Barcelona’s victory but pulled an effort wide late on – he only has three goals in his last 10 games for the club across all competitions.

Atletico, fourth, trail Barca by three points and the top two by seven.

“The idea was to go for the game and I don’t know what happened,” Atletico goalkeeper Oblak told Movistar.

“Nobody was good in the first half, nobody wanted the ball, nobody wanted to play.”

Earlier winless bottom side Almeria were held 0-0 at home by 10-man Real Betis, seventh, on Sunday.

Struggling Sevilla, 15th, drew 1-1 with Villarreal and have not won in 10 matches under new coach Diego Alonso between La Liga and the Champions League.

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European Leagues

Tella Helps Leverkusen Break Bayern’s Record After Win Against Mainz

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Nathan Tella was in action for Bayer Leverkusen who secured a hard fought 2-1 win against Mainz in the Bundesliga on Friday night.

Tella came on in the 83rd minute and helped Leverkusen hold on to their lead and claim the three points.

His Nigerian teammate Victor Boniface is still out with injury.

The win means Leverkusen stretched its lead to 11 points over champions Bayern Munich in the league table.

Also, Xabi Alonso’s men set a German record of 33 games unbeaten across all competitions.

Former Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka fired Leverkusen into a third-minute lead, after letting fly from outside the penalty area for his first goal on his 31st appearance for the club.

But Dominik Kohr replied for the visitors with a header at the other end four minutes later.

In the 68th minute Leverkusen went 2-1 up thanks to Robert Andrich’s harmless-looking shot which Mainz keeper failed to hold.

With 10 minutes left Mainz were reduced to 10 men when Jessic Ngankam was sent off after a VAR check for a dangerous tackle on Xhaka.

Bayern Munich could reduce the 11-point gap to eight if they beat Leipzig on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 11 rounds of fixtures would remain after this weekend.

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If I score, I won’t celebrate it – says Ramos ahead of Real Madrid clash

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Sergio Ramos will return to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since he left Real Madrid in 2021 to join PSG, when he lines up for Sevilla on Sunday.

The veteran defender won five La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues in his 16-year spell at Real, scoring 101 goals in 671 appearances.

Ramos, back at boyhood club Sevilla, says he will not celebrate if he scores.

“I wouldn’t celebrate but if I happen to score and it was enough for us to win I would be delighted, those three points would be very good for us,” Ramos told the La Liga website.

Ramos is aware of the difficulty of the match for Sevilla against the league leaders, Real Madrid, who approach the game after drawing in Vallecas and having a week without matches.

“Real Madrid is always the favorite to win everything. They’re in a good moment, leading the league, and have players of extraordinary magnitude and quality. We know very well the ground we’re going to step on, and we’ll try in one way or another to have a good game there,” he said.

he recalled how close they were in the first leg at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. “We played Madrid head-to-head, we had chances to win. Kepa made a very good save from my header that would have given us the victory. When the team is compact, we’re all together, we play with good intensity, and we press high, we’re a guerrilla team.”

Ramos didn’t reveal his plans for next season, proud of the decision he made to return to Sevilla after his adventure at PSG.

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Pep Guardiola admits Kevin De Bruyne is not ’100 per cent’

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The Belgian international sat out City’s 1-0 win over Brentford on Tuesday as the 32-year-old had some niggles. Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth, Guardiola revealed De Bruyne “did not feel comfortable” playing against the Bees, but he is very likely to be in the squad for the clash against the Cherries.

The Spaniard told reporters on Friday: “He’s [De Bruyne] good – not injured. He’s better. I don’t know if he is 100 per cent but we took a good decision to not take a risk, apart from the result, if the result was not good, people would ask why he didn’t play. He didn’t feel comfortable.

“We have training at 4pm [Friday]. The day after the game he didn’t train and yesterday everyone was off, but he trained by himself. Today [Friday] we will assess. I am sure he will travel.”

City are still in the hunt for a second-straight treble (Champions League, FA Cup, Premier League) despite appearing to be at a lower level to where they were at this point last season. For much of the campaign they have been without the influential midfielder due to injury but when he is fit he makes a huge difference. Therefore, managing his minutes is key.

After City take on Andoni Iraola’s Bournemouth this weekend, Guardiola’s side travel to Luton Town in round five of the FA Cup on Tuesday. They then host rivals Manchester United on March 3 in the Premier League.

 

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