Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 at the Nou Camp in a top-of-the-table clash in La Liga on Saturday afternoon. It was a result which gave them a three point cushion over their rivals in the title race.
Koke gave Atletico an early lead after some sloppy Barcelona defending, but goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez put Barca ahead at half time. Atletico were forced to play the second half with ten men after a red for Felipe Luis, and it went from bad to worse for the visitors when Diego Godin was also given his marching orders.
The two sides went into the game tied on 48 points at the top of La Liga – though Barcelona had a game in hand. Real Madrid were four points back on 44.
It was widely billed as one of Barcelona few remaining difficult games this season, they had already played away from home against Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Celta Vigo, and Athletic Bilbao.
The atmosphere and the game lacked the intensity that most onlookers had hoped for in the opening ten minutes, and it wasn’t until Koke fired the visitors ahead that the game started to come alive.
Saul whipped in a deep cross from the right flank, and the 24-year-old side-footed past Claudio Bravo from 12 yards out.
Despite enjoying 70 percent possession for the opening 20 minutes, Barca’s first real chance didn’t come until the 17th minute when Neymar couldn’t quite get on the end of Gerard Pique’s through ball.
Barcelona’s endless pressure eventually paid off on the half hour mark. Jordi Alba was the provider – he burst into the area before providing a perfect cutback, and Messi made no mistake with his first-time effort.
Incredibly, it was Messi’s 21st league goal against Atletico.
Seven minutes later and Barca were 2-1 ahead thanks to Suarez.
The goal came out of nowhere. Dani Alves played a hopeful long ball from the half way line, and no other player touched it until Suarez nutmegged Atletico ‘keeper Jan Oblak from the corner of the six yard box.
There was further drama before the break as ex-Chelsea defender Felipe Luis was shown a straight red for a reckless studs-up challenge at knee height on Messi. The Argentine was extremely lucky not to come away with a serious injury.
Atletico were almost level ten minutes into the second period. Ferreira Carrasco did spectacularly well to get a cross in from a difficult position, and Antoine Griezmann’s acrobatic effort was only stopped by the trailing legs of Bravo. The keeper knew little about it.
Atletico surprisingly continued to dominate despite being a man short, but that came to an abrupt end in the 65th minute when they were sensationally reduced to nine men.
Godin was the reciepent of the ref’s wrath, as he wiped out Suarez even though the Barca man was heading down a blind alley. It was a stupid tackle from the captain, and Alberto Undiano wasted no time in showing him a second yellow.
Despite their numerical superiority Barca couldn’t find a third. They failed to force Oblak into a save in the final 20 minutes and the game ended 2-1.
The result sees Barcelona move onto 51 points and stay top. Atletico could see their lead over Real reduced to a point if their cross-city rivals can beat Espanyol tomorrow.
Next up for Barcelona is a home tie against Valencia in the Copa del Rey in mid-week, then a trip to Levante next Sunday in the league.
Atletico Madrid will face Eibar at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in the cup, before an away tie at Getafe next weekend.