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FC Barcelona got back to back goals from Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi in the 85th and 86th minutes on Saturday night to beat ten-manAtlético Madrid at Camp Nou in a battle between the top two teams in La Liga.
The victory gives Barça an 11-point lead over Los Colchoneros with seven games to play, delivering a sobering blow to Atlético’s dream of a late-season surge to send the title race down to the wire. While Barça are still far from being mathematically anointed the La Liga champs, Saturday’s triumph removes the biggest roadblock still standing in the way.
Atlético’s Diego Costa was shown a straight red card in the 28th minute, marking a turning point in the match — one that, contrary to conventional wisdom, favored Atlético, until Suárez and Messi broke through.
Just five minutes from time, the game appeared headed for a scoreless draw that would have kept the distance between Barça and Atlético in the standings unchanged and would have handed the Madrileños an enormous moral victory heading into the season’s final spate of fixtures.
Cue Suárez and Messi
After countless Barça scoring attempts were thwarted by a combination of Atlético’s stingy defending and the superb goalkeeping of Jan Oblak, the first blaugrana goal came out of nowhere. Suárez took an innocuous pass from JordiAlba beyond the area and, instead of looking for the next pass, he wheeled and fired, surprising Oblak, who dove to his left as the ball curled along the ground, under this outstretched arm, off the inside of the post, and into the net.
Less than one minute later, Messi dribbled all the way down into the Atlético area, and got tangled up with a defender before regaining possession and shooting low. Oblak was screened on the play and stood there frozen as he watched the ball go into the net.
Before and After
Although the goals by Suárez and Messi secured the victory, it was Costa’s red card that defined the game. From the opening whistle until the 28th minute, when Costa was all of a sudden sent off, Atlético attacked with frequency, refusing to sit back and defend, very much aware that they needed a win — and the three points to keep alive any expectations of a stretch run.
Barça did have early chances, however, as Alba hit the post in the 14th, while Messi and PhilippeCoutinho also had solid chances in the 23rd and 28th.
But in the moments following an Oblak save on a Coutinho shot, Costa emphatically inveighed against a no-call in the middle of the field and before anyone knew what was going on, the Spaniard was sent off.
When play resumed, the frenetic pace of the opening minutes had gone AWOL, with 10-man Atlético dropping back into defensive mode in an effort to salvage a draw and a point. Barça, on the other hand, were suddenly playing with a lot more patience.
Messi paves the way
Messi fired a shot straight at Oblak in the 44th, and after the break, he continued chipping away at Atlético, only to be repeatedly stumped by Oblak. The Argentinian weaved his way through the Colchonero defense in the 61st, gave Suárez a one-on-one that was kick-saved in the 62nd, and dropped multiple defenders again in the 64th. Barça had a double chance in the 69th, with Messi and Malcom both seeing their shots saved.
Atlético had two chances in the second half, both on free kicks deep in the Barça end. Neither came close. Then Suárez and Messi flipped the switch.
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