Barcelona 2 Atletico Madrid 1
Goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez fired Barcelona to a priceless 2-1 win over nine-man Atletico Madrid to strike a huge blow in the Primera Division title race.
Atletico got off to a fine start at the Nou Camp as Koke gave them the lead after just 10 minutes but Messi and Suarez each struck in the space of eight minutes to turn the game around before the break.
The balance of the table-top showdown then further tipped in Barca’s favour when Atletico defenders Filipe Luis and Diego Godin were sent off, and a frustrating afternoon for Diego Simeone’s side was later compounded as Augusto Fernandez was stretchered off with a suspected knee injury.
The result sees the Catalan side move three points above their nearest challengers at the top of the table thanks to their fifth straight win over Atletico, and Luis Enrique’s men still boast a game in hand.
It was in this fixture last year that Barca kick-started their season, outplaying the then champions the week after losing at Real Sociedad and claiming a 3-1 win thanks to goals from Suarez, Messi and Neymar.
Barca have beaten Atletico on every occasion since Simeone’s side drew 1-1 at the Nou Camp to lift the league title in May 2014, but the visitors dominated the early stages on Saturday.
Saul Niguez fired the first warning shot after just four minutes, forcing Claudio Bravo to claw the ball away from the top corner.
The midfielder was also the architect of Atletico’s opener. He received the ball from a throw in and shrugged off Jordi Alba and Javier Mascherano by the corner flag to cut back towards Antoine Griezmann but the Frenchman left it for Koke, who side-footed low past Bravo.
Barca were stunned and nearly conceded a second when Fernandez sent a shot flashing just wide of the far post.
But as the minutes past Atletico got more aggressive. Filipe Luis escaped a booking for bringing down Messi on the break, and Godin and Gabi both received bookings in quick succession, the former for appearing to scrape his studs down the leg of fellow Uruguayan Suarez.
It took Barca almost half an hour to get their first shot on target, a threaded ball by Andres Iniesta which Suarez smacked at Jan Oblak, but they sustained the pressure and soon got their reward.
Neymar held the ball up in the box and gave it to Alba, who avoided the attempted tackle of a sliding Jose Gimenez to knock it to Messi, who smashed past Oblak at the near post.
The wind was very much in the hosts’ sails and they took the lead eight minutes later, Dani Alves delivering a lovely curled pass from the halfway line towards Suarez, who outmuscled Gimenez to knock his shot through the legs of Oblak.
Atletico’s frustration at going behind was palpable and Juanfran became the latest player to get booked, for a foul on Neymar. But their anger was most emphatically displayed by Filipe Luis, who landed a studs-up challenge just above Messi’s knee and was deservedly sent off.
It looked like the end of the contest but Atletico coped admirably well in the second half and could have equalised when Griezmann met Yannick Carrasco’s cross on the volley, but somehow Bravo saved with his left foot, despite diving to the right.
Atletico’s hopes of getting something out of the game all but vanished in the 65th minute, though, when Godin slid in late on Suarez and was shown a second yellow card.
They escaped further punishment as Barca failed to take full advantage of their numerical superiority, but there was scant chance of Atletico striking at the other end.