FC Barcelona’s feared triple threat of Leo Messi, Neymar and Luís Suárez did all the damage on Sunday night as the Catalans emerged victorious over Atlético Madrid in a must-win match on Sunday night at Camp Nou.
The win puts Barça alone into second place in the league standings with three very big points, and allows them to keep pace with leaders Real Madrid, while Atlético drop to third. The two teams had been tied heading into the clash.
Both sides took the field knowing that only a win would suffice, but Barça took control early, getting the first few deep incursions into Atlético territory. Messi sent the first shot of the game just wide at 10 minutes. And two minutes later when he sent an awkwardly bouncing cross through the goalmouth, Luis Suárez was in position but whiffed. Luckily Neymar had his back and calmly touched into the net for the early lead.
Atlético immediately resorted to a more physical style of play to try and thwart the vaunted Barça attack. Neymar was taken down with a vicious tackle and the Camp Nou crowd was holding its collective breath as the Brazilian had to be briefly tended to on the sideline.
Neymar, now back on the field, came close to adding another but his header coming off a beautiful lob from Suárez couldn’t hit the net. Barça commandeered possession for the middle part of the half, and then Suárez struck in the 35th with a nice finish after a sublime ball from Messi.
Halftime came with Barça in the driver’s seat but when play resumed, Atlético got a break when referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco whistled Messi for a foul on Atlético's Jesús Gámez in the penalty area in the 56th minute. Mario Mandžukić’s shot right down the middle fooled Barça keeper Claudio Bravo, who dove to his right. The goal added a sense of drama to the remaining half hour, despite Barça’s insistence on maintaining possession.
The last quarter hour saw the temperature turned up a bit, with skirmishes away from the ball and several yellow cards being handed out. Atlético made all three changes in a 15-minute span, including the entrance of Fernando Torres—just back with the team after years playing abroad—into the game.
But the addition of fresh legs to try and get the tying goal was fruitless, as Messi, after a lightning-quick give and go with Ivan Rakitic, sealed the win with a late goal, finishing as he has done so many times before.