BARCELONA: 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 (Sunday in Manila).
Koke handed the visitors a deserved early lead, but Barca 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 Barca 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.
“It is clear it is an important day for us to pick up three points against our closest rivals, but there is a long way to go,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
“Every game presents its difficulties and you don’t always overcome them in the most effective or spectacular way.”
Meanwhile, Atletico coach Diego Simeone refused to chastise Luis and Godin for leaving his side short-handed against the European champions.
“I have nothing to reproach them for,” said the Argentine.
“Even with nine men we maintained our way of playing. In a game you can win or lose, but I always prefer to lose in this way.”
The clash between La Liga’s top two pitted Europe’s most feared attack against its strongest defense, 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 with Barca struggling to get a foothold in the game.
The European champions had been outplayed by Malaga and Athletic Bilbao in the first-half of their previous two games before reacting after the break, but they 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.