Ousmane Dembele’s 90th-minute strike rescued Barcelona a point at Atletico Madrid in a 1-1 draw on Saturday that kept the Catalans top of La Liga. The French winger came on as a substitute and drove in a low shot that deflected past Jan Oblak.
Atletico striker Diego Costa’s 77th-minute header from Antoine Griezmann’s corner was the first effort on target in a dour clash and appeared to have sent the Madrid side top of the standings.
But Dembele’s late contribution stopped Barcelona from falling to a second consecutive defeat and kept them one point ahead of their opponents at the summit.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde brought Samuel Umtiti back into the side after nearly a two-month injury absence, and started with Dembele on the bench after defending the player on Friday following media reports of unprofessional behaviour.
Atletico set the pace in a miserable first half. Diego Simeone’s side were typically cautious, reluctant to give Barcelona’s top players much space to move into.
Sergio Busquets was booked on his 500th appearance for Barcelona, the seventh player to reach that milestone, while Atletico’s Lucas Hernandez also had his name taken for a foul on Lionel Messi.
The Argentine forward curled the free kick over the bar and it was as close as either side came before the break in a half with no shots on target, the first time that has happened in La Liga this season.
Costa went close to breaking the deadlock when he slid in for Griezmann’s cross but Barca defender Gerard Pique got a touch to divert the ball out of the striker’s path.
Atletico appealed for a penalty after Arturo Vidal headed the ball against his own hand but VAR did not require referee Jesus Gil Manzano to watch a replay of the incident.
Costa broke the deadlock, ending a personal 18-match goal drought in La Liga and scoring against Barca for the first time, and Valverde sent Dembele on to try to rescue a point.
The World Cup winner obliged at the death, taking Messi’s pass, cutting inside and firing in a shot that deflected off Oblak past Lucas on the line.
Valverde hails decisive Dembele
Dembele has faced media criticism and was dropped from the squad for Barcelona’s league game against Real Betis following media reports of unprofessional behaviour, including poor time-keeping.
“He’s a great player and has a lot of talents, among them goals, he’s showing that,” Valverde told a news conference.
“(The media) talk about him far too much. The last game he wasn’t called up, it’s true. He’s a player that we have to help so that things work for him and he can help us as a team. We expect a lot of him because he is a great talent.”
Barcelona failed to break down Atletico during a game that did not see a shot on target until Costa’s header broke the deadlock.
“We had a lot of the ball, their first corner was their goal, each team has their own style,” Valverde said.
“We wanted to dominate the game and play close to their box but you have to understand they are experts at this, sitting deep and counter-attacking.”
Atletico coach Simeone denied that his team, second and a point behind champions Barcelona, had set out to get a draw.
“Who went out looking for a draw? Where does it say that? That is just your opinion,” Simeone said. “I liked everything about my team, we worked hard, I have congratulated my squad.”