Luis Suarez piled more misery on Barcelona by scoring against his former club on Saturday as a 2-0 victory for Atletico Madrid did nothing to ease the mounting pressure on Ronald Koeman.
Barca president Joan Laporta had said only a few hours earlier that Koeman would continue as coach “regardless of the result” at the Wanda Metropolitano, but another limp display will put that commitment to the test over the two-week international break.
Suarez put his hands together and looked up to the sky in what was initially a muted celebration, presumably out of respect for his former club, where he spent six years and scored 198 goals.
But the Uruguayan then made a telephone gesture and appeared to aim it at Koeman, perhaps referencing the abrupt manner Barca’s coach told him he was surplus to requirements at Camp Nou, just over a year ago.
Thomas Lemar had already fired Atletico in front and, two down before half-time, Barcelona looked vulnerable to another hammering on the back of successive 3-0 defeats in the Champions League by Bayern Munich and Benfica.
They at least avoided more embarrassment in the second half and it remains to be seen now whether Laporta stays true to his word by giving Koeman more time to turn things around.
Xavi Hernandez, Roberto Martinez and Andrea Pirlo have reportedly been the names under consideration as replacements and it is possible Laporta has found none of them are keen, with Barcelona bottom of their Champions League group and restricted to a spending limit of 97 million euros by La Liga, only the seventh highest in the division.
But this is a team that looks increasingly drained of spark and belief, with several highly talented players now regularly delivering below their potential.
Barca sit ninth, while Atletico’s win takes them level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table.
Joao Felix stars
They needed this result too, after a disappointing start to the season that had seen them win only two of their previous five games.
Suarez might take the headlines but it was his partner Joao Felix who was arguably the star of the show, the youngster a menace in the first half and producing one of his best performances in a long time.
This was the first game the Wanda Metropolitano had been full since March 2020 and the noise gave impetus to Atletico early on, with Felix particularly stirred as his surging runs had to be pulled back a handful of times in the opening stages.
Felix powered through the middle, he ran down the left and then he shot wide.
It was his superb touch that created the opening goal too, a delightful shift away from Ronald Araujo on the left wing opening the whole pitch up in a moment.
Felix played inside to Suarez, who fired first-time across to Lemar and he finished into the top corner.
For Barca, Philippe Coutinho went close on the volley and Frenkie de Jong came up just short when stretching for Memphis Depay’s header across.
But Atletico were tearing Barca open on the break and Suarez made it two just before half-time.
Depay lost the ball up front and four passes later, Suarez was in, Yannick Carrasco touching to Lemar, who bounced the ball off Felix and fired it right.
With Gerard Pique back-peddling onto the line, Suarez picked his spot.
Coutinho had a chance to pull one back for Barca before the hour but Jan Oblak smothered the finish and that was Coutinho’s last contribution before being replaced by Ansu Fati.
Antoine Griezmann came on for Atletico too, making his first appearance since leaving Barcelona, nominally on loan, on the last day of the transfer window.
He had a great chance on the break but passed badly, a switch to Angel Correa sent straight out of play.
A scattering of whistles for Griezmann were drowned out by supportive applause. Nothing could quieten the roars at the final whistle.