MADRID: Lionel Messi celebrated the birth of his second son by coming off the bench to score the winner as Barcelona came from behind to claim a vital 2-1 win away at Atletico Madrid on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Real Madrid remains two points behind Barca at the top of the table after Cristiano Ronaldo became the club’s all-time leading scorer in La Liga with five goals in a 6-0 rout of Espanyol.
Messi started on the sidelines having missed training on Friday to attend the birth, a day after returning from Argentina international duty.
However, he was still to make the decisive contribution as he nonchalantly flicked home the winner 11 minutes from time after Neymar had cancelled out Fernando Torres’s opener.
“When we have the best on the field, we all play better,” Neymar said about Messi.
“I am happy to win the game and principally to score the goal. It was important to equalize quickly.”
Atletico boss Diego Simeone lamented his side’s overall performance, but wasn’t surprised to see his compatriot once again make the difference.
“Messi was the difference when he was on the pitch,” said Simeone.
“He is a player that is used to turning the game and he did it once more today.”
Even without Messi, Barca was the dominant side early on at the Calderon with Ivan Rakitic forcing Jan Oblak into the first serious save of the game with a fierce drive from a narrow angle.
Torres was again chosen ahead of Jackson Martinez in attack for Atletico and he wasted the hosts’ best chance of the first-half when he blasted over under pressure from Javier Mascherano.
Barca suffered a blow when Thomas Vermaelen was forced off with a calf injury.
Yet, Luis Suarez should still have given them a half-time lead when he turned Rafinha’s flick onto the crossbar from point-blank range.
Atletico struck first six minutes after the break when Torres latched onto Tiago’s through ball and his shot found the net via the far post.