Barca sink Atletico to return to top

Barca sink Atletico to return to top
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in action during their match against Atletico Madrid.
MADRID, Dec 2 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 12/2/2019 11:42:52 AM IST

Lionel Messi underlined his ability to make the difference on big occasions by hitting a sensational late goal to give Barcelona a 1-0 win at title rivals Atletico Madrid on Sunday as the champions reclaimed top spot in La Liga from Real Madrid.

The Argentine settled a pulsating and tense encounter in the 86th minute, galloping down the right wing and cutting inside before playing a one-two with Luis Suarez and guiding the ball into the bottom corner.

Messi’s strike saw Barca return to the top of the standings with 31 points after 14 games, ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference, while Atletico were left in sixth spot on 25 points. 

Atleti and Barca hit the woodwork and visiting keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two stunning saves. Antoine Griezmann got a hostile reception from the home fans in his first game against his old side since a bitter 120 million euro transfer to Barca.

Atleti were under pressure after one win in their previous six games and they made a flying start, nearly going ahead when Barca’s Junior Firpo deflected a cross against the far post.

Barca were cagey in their approach for large chunks of the game although Pique hit the bar with a header before the break and Ivan Rakitic scuffed a shot straight at keeper Jan Oblak. Roared on by 67,000 fans, Atletico looked more likely to snatch a winner but yet again Messi proved the difference.

The Argentine clinched the 2015 La Liga title for Barca with a strike against Atletico and also hit winning goals against them in pivotal games in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons.

His goal here could also prove crucial in what looks set to be a thrilling two-horse race between Barca and Real, who meet on December 18 in the ‘Clasico’ at the Camp Nou.

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