Barcelona have moved three points clear at the top of the La Liga table courtesy of a 2-1 win over nine-man Atletico Madrid in their top-of-the-table clash at Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors took a 10th-minute lead through Koke, but the home side entered the interval with the lead courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
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Atletico’s task was also made harder ahead of the second period when they lost Filipe Luis to a red card in the 44th minute, with the Brazilian given his marching orders for a late challenge on Messi.
Atletico then went down to nine in 65th minute when Diego Godin picked up a second yellow, allowing Barcelona, who are now unbeaten in 26 matches in all competitions, to close out the match for all three points.
Atletico had the first chance of the match inside three minutes when Saul Niguez worked a yard of space in a wide position before curling one towards the top corner, but Claudio Bravo was across to tip the ball wide of his post.
Saul was a key contributor in Atletico’s strong start and the Spaniard played a starring role in the first goal of the match – delivering into Koke from a wide angle and the midfielder’s first-time effort found the bottom corner to leave the visitors ahead in the 10th minute of action.
The response from Barcelona was impressive, with Neymar in particular taking the match to Atletico down the left. The visitors almost made it 2-0 in the 20th minute, however, as Augusto Fernandez’s low strike just missed the post.
Atletico picked up two yellow cards in the space of one minute as Barcelona continued to up the tempo as the 30-minute mark approached, but Messi could not make use of a couple of free kicks. The home side’s first serious chance came in the 29th minute when Suarez found rare space inside the Atletico box, but his low effort was kept out by the strong Jan Oblak.
Luis Enrique’s side did not have to wait long to make amends, however, with Messi converting a Jordi Alba cross in the 30th minute to leave the two teams on terms at Camp Nou.
Barcelona continued to look the more likely to add to the scoring in the latter stages of the first period, but Atletico had a golden chance 10 minutes before the break. Yannick Ferreira Carraco worked the ball into Antoine Griezmann, but the Frenchman could only fire over the crossbar.
Diego Simeone’s side were then made to regret that miss when Suarez met a through pass from Dani Alves – out-muscling Jose Gimenez in the process – before finding the back of the net through the legs of Oblak. It got worse for Atletico in the 44th minute, however, when Luis was given a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Messi, which brought a furious reaction from the Barcelona bench.
It did not come as much of a surprise when Simeone introduced Jesus Gamez at the break in a bid to keep his back four in tact, but the flow remained much the same early in the half as Barcelona passed and probed in the final third. Atletico did create a golden chance in the 56th minute when Carrasco found Griezmann inside the box, but the Frenchman was denied by an excellent point-blank save from Bravo.
The away side’s hopes of getting back into the match were effectively ended in the 65th minute, however, when Godin picked up his second yellow card of the match for a poor challenge on Suarez, leaving Atletico with nine men. Arda Turan came close to putting the result beyond doubt against his former club when Messi found the Turkish international inside the box, but his effort was just wide of the post, before Alves followed suit 10 minutes from time.
Barcelona, who have now won the last six meetings between the two teams, could not find a third to ease the pressure in the latter stages, but Atletico did not create a chance of note after going down to nine men, allowing the hosts to claim all the points in fairly comfortable fashion.