Atletico Madrid came within a whisker of their first league win over Barcelona in eight years on Saturday only for Ousmane Dembele to dash their hopes with a dramatic equaliser in injury-time. Diego Costa looked to have won a dreary contest at the Wanda Metropolitano when he headed in his first La Liga goal since February with 12 minutes left, as Atletico prepared to go top of the table with a long-awaited victory. Instead, Barca produced another fightback as Dembele, on as a substitute, slid home a cool finish in the 90th minute to earn the visitors a 1-1 draw. The relief was palpable in the celebrations of the luminous yellow shirts in the corner but perhaps just as grateful were Real Madrid, beaten 3-0 by Eibar earlier in the day.
Santiago Solari had proven the perfect caretaker but his debut as permanent coach ended in a disastrous, and deserved, defeat at Ipurua. Madrid's only consolation was that neither Atletico nor Barca were able to secure the win that would have pulled them a further three points away. Costa almost had it, scoring his first goal in 18 league games to surely end Atletico's winless run against Barca in the league, which stretches back to February 2010.
But Dembele, dropped by coach Ernesto Valverde for the defeat to Real Betis before the international break, proved his worth by applying a clinical finish when it mattered most. The opening 45 minutes were almost entirely forgettable, distinguished solely by the fact it was the only time this season that a first half had failed to witness a single shot on target.
Gerard Pique went closest to scoring when he almost wafted a clearance into his own net. Messi rifled a free-kick over the bar and that was that, a half of few chances perhaps more a triumph for Atletico than Barcelona. Griezmann finally injected some urgency on the hour, robbing the ball off Arthur Melo before leaving Samuel Umtiti for dead.
Costa was just short of finishing the cutback. Atletico wanted a penalty when the ball struck Arturo Vidal's arm but the video assistant referee decided it was not deliberate. The frustration spurred Atleti on and in the 77th minute they scored, Griezmann's corner drifting its way to the back post where Costa headed in. But Dembele instigated the comeback against Rayo Vallecano last month and did the same again here as the ball spilled out to the 21-year-old at the back post.
He took one touch inside, before firing it into the net. If Solari was watching on he might have breathed a sigh of relief. Four wins while in temporary charge had earned him a contract until 2021 over the international break but against Eibar, Real reverted to the kind of chaotic display that cost Julen Lopetegui the sack.
Defeat also brought into focus the mindset of Madrid's players, after their captain Sergio Ramos faced allegations of an anti-doping violation on Friday night from German magazine Der Spiegel. Both the club and Ramos have denied any breach. Eibar were stronger, more aggressive and, worryingly for Solari, appeared clearer about the plan they wanted to execute. Marc Cucurella, brilliant down the left, was instrumental in all three goals, scored by Gonzalo Escalante, Sergi Enrich and Kike Garcia.
"It is not about finding people to blame," Solari said afterwards. "Everything is fixable. We had won four straight games, done some things very well, and we have to get back to that." Defender Raphael Varane added: "We were not well-organised, we were not comfortable and we did not find any answers." Eibar, meanwhile, shoot up to seventh, a reward for their first ever victory over Real Madrid at the 11th attempt, inside their tiny 7,083-capacity Ipurua. "We could even have scored more," said their coach Jose Luis Mendilibar.
Ramos attacked Der Spiegels claims as "lies" after the match but allegations he failed to declare the correct medication after the Champions League final in 2017, cannot have helped his side's performance. On their display, Ramos said: "When you don?t match an opponent, you become a bad team. You have to be critical when you lack intensity. Our game was reflected by the score."
Solari, meanwhile, must now rally Real ahead of Tuesday's Champions League game against Roma, which is likely to decide the winner of Group G.