La Liga: Barcelona quell Atletico challenge, extend lead at the top
Messi, Suarez help Catalans edge past nine-man Atletico and open gap at the top.football Updated: Jan 31, 2016 09:29 IST
Barcelona took control of the La Liga title race as goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez inspired a come-from-behind 2-1 win against nine-man Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Koke handed the visitors a deserved early lead, but Barcelona turned the game thanks to two goals in eight minutes before the break through Messi and Suarez.
Atletico’s hopes of salvaging a point were then ruined as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin were sent off for rash challenges either side of half-time.
Victory takes Barcelona three points clear of Atletico at the top of the table — having also played a game less — and seven points clear of third-placed Real Madrid, who host Espanyol on Sunday.
The clash between La Liga’s top two pitted Europe’s most feared attack against its strongest defence, but it was Atletico who started on the front foot.
Saul Niguez’s dipping effort was brilliantly turned over by Claudio Bravo after just two minutes. However, another Niguez burst provided the opening goal eight minutes later when his cross from the right just evaded Antoine Griezmann and was slotted home at the far post by Koke. Atletico could even have had a more commanding lead as Augusto Fernandez flashed a shot inches wide.
The European champions clicked into gear in the final 15 minutes of the first-half to turn the game on its head.
Suarez fired a warning shot that Jan Oblak got down well to save at his near post. However, the Slovenian’s 483-minute run without conceding was ended when Jordi Alba showed great composure to pull a low cross into Messi’s path to smash home.
Atletico were then caught uncharacteristically flat-footed as Dani Alves’s long ball over the top picked out Suarez, who showed great strength to hold off compatriot Jose Maria Gimenez, before slotting between Oblak’s legs.