Barcelona forward Joao Felix ended a long goal drought with a vital strike this week, ominous timing for his parent club Atletico Madrid, who visit the Catalan capital on Sunday in La Liga.
The Portuguese attacker struck the winner against Porto to help Barcelona reach the Champions League last 16 after two humiliating group stage exits, a goal which will give him confidence ahead of Atletico’s arrival.
Felix started brilliantly after his late summer switch on loan from Atletico, but quickly faded out and had not scored for his club since mid-September — a barren run of 12 matches.
Diego Simeone’s dangerous Atletico, third, are ahead of Barcelona on goal difference and Felix will be aiming to make a statement after a tough time in the capital.
Atletico splashed 126 million euros ($138 million) on the forward in 2019 from Benfica to replace Antoine Griezmann, who left for Barcelona.
The Frenchman failed to make an impact in the Catalan capital and returned to Atletico, where he is shining.
Felix’s time at Atletico was frustrating, with moments of genius on occasion showing his quality, but consistency eluded him.
The forward never seemed to fit in with Simeone’s desire for a team which works relentlessly all over the pitch.
Felix prefers to play at his own rhythm and impressed in the win over Porto with his well-taken strike and another drive he crashed off the crossbar.
While things are looking brighter for him at Barcelona, he and the team have both found themselves questioned over the past few weeks.
Barca lost the Clasico against Real Madrid, fell 1-0 away against Shakhtar Donetsk and have played poorly in La Liga in other matches, despite avoiding other defeats.
The Spanish champions start the weekend four points behind leaders Real Madrid and second-placed Girona, and while they are level with Atletico, Simeone’s team have a game in hand.
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez hopes Felix’s winner and reaching the next round of the Champions League can help the club turn their recent dip in performances around.
“I think we dominated in terms of play, dominated the game, the second half, I insist, is the path we have to follow — I hope it can be a turning point,” said Xavi.
“Felix was good, incisive, he scored the goal… and forwards are freer when they’ve scored.”
Felix combined well with his compatriot Joao Cancelo, who set him up to score, with the pair both likely to start against Atletico.
Some of the worries around the club were eased by their comeback win over Porto and if they can take three more points at the weekend, the waters will be considerably calmer.
Real Madrid will be confident of staying top of the table with a win over 19th-placed strugglers Granada when they face off on Saturday afternoon, while Girona welcome Valencia earlier that day.
Player to watch: Inaki Williams
The Ghana forward has been in superb form this season, netting six goals and providing three assists in 14 appearances in La Liga. Los Leones are leaning on Williams to make the difference against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday and continue the club’s push to break into the top four.
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