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Lionel Messi flicks the ball past Jan Oblak to give FC Barcelona the lead in the 77th minute on Saturday night at the Vicente Calderón Stadium in Madrid. / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

Lionel Messi came off the bench in the second half and scored less than a quarter-hour from time to hand FC Barcelona a 2–1 comeback victory over Atlético Madrid on Saturday night at the Vicente Calderón Stadium in Madrid, Spain. Fernando Torres’ icebreaker after 52 minutes had briefly given Atlético the lead before Neymar evened things right back up for the Catalans three minutes later. The triumph gives Barça their third win of the season in three tries. Atlético were defeated for the first time this season after opening the campaign with a pair of wins.

In the 77th minute both teams were engaged in a jumbled up scrum for an elusive loose ball out on the corner of the Atlético area when Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez managed to control and combined to feed Messi, who gathered the ball in stride and flicked it past Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak for the late lead. It was Messi’s first goal of the season and the 20th of his career against the Red and Whites, his favourite league target.

Messi started the game on the bench having not practiced all week due to national team commitments. The Argentinian replaced Ivan Rakitic in the 60th minute and provided the difference.

Tit for tat

Diego Simeone’s team went up 1–0 in the 52nd by capitalising on a rare defensive oversight by Barça. Torres received an unexpected pass out of the midfield and slipped the ball past blaugrana goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen on a one-on-one as Jordi Alba’s race to catch up fell a half stride short. It was an untimely lapse for a Barça midfield line that had summarily held their Atlético counterparts under lock and key until that point.

But just three minutes later Neymar, after being taken down 25 metres from the Atlético goal, dusted himself off and converted a textbook free kick that curled up and over the four-man wall and broke back down into upper left corner, the only spot where the high-flying Oblak couldn’t get to it. The equaliser was Neymar’s sixth goal in 11 career games versus the Colchoneros and his fourth at the Calderón.

Chess match

The opening quarter hour unfolded more like a chess match than a football game. Both sides were cautious out of the gate, opting for tactics aimed at deliberately setting up the table while looking to exploit small openings and attack at just the right moment.

FC Barcelona midfielder Andrés Iniesta broke the monotony in the 15th with a slashing run that set up Rakitic, whose one-timer was turned away by an alert Oblak. Suárez followed with a sneaky cross but Rafinha’s attempt at a diving header came a split second too late.

Barça’s best chance of the opening half came on 18 minutes. Rakitic lined a corner kick through traffic where Rafinha nodded the ball on to Suárez, streaking in on the far side, whose volley rattled the cross bar. Defender Thomas Vermaelen pulled up lame on play, untouched, and was forced out of the game in favour of Jérémy Mathieu.

Simeone’s side, for their part, struggled mightily to get out of their own end and were totally stymied by Barça’s gatekeepers in the midfield. Led by a superb Iniesta standing tall in the neutral zone the Catalans controlled possession to the tune of 70% in the first 45 minutes.

[[BOTOVERMELL::Video highlights of Barça v Atlético++BARÇA FANS::http://www.fcbarcelona.com/football/first-team/detail/article/highlights-all-the-goals-and-top-plays-from-fc-barcelona-s-21-comeback-victory-over-atletico-madrid::HOR::NF::NO-TRACKING::::::]]


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