Spanish La Liga
Barcelona3Atl Madrid1

Barcelona 3-1 Atletico Madrid

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez
Lionel Messi scored for the first time in eight attempts against Atletico Madrid

A Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona remain a point behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid after easing the pressure on boss Luis Enrique with a win over champions Atletico.

A dominant Barcelona took the lead when Luis Suarez and Messi combined for Neymar to convert from close range.

Messi played Suarez in to double the lead before adding a late third.

Mario Mandzukic had pulled a goal back from the penalty spot after Messi fouled Jesus Gamez.

But, despite an improved second-half display and the introduction of Fernando Torres, Atletico were limited to just one shot on target from open play.

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez scored and assisted in a single La Liga game for the first time

PRE-MATCH TENSION

At the end of a week which saw him dropped to the bench, skip a public training session due to a mystery 'illness' and encourage speculation over a transfer amid reports of a bitter falling-out with his manager, all eyes were on Messi - even more than ever - on Sunday night.

But was he in the right frame of mind to break the shackles of Atletico's magnificent defence, which had stifled Real Madrid just five days earlier and conceded only two goals in six meetings with Barca last season? It was time to find out.

PLAYING POSITION

The Argentine was more or less a conventional right winger, adhering to the 4-3-3 shape of his team with a far more disciplined and less flexible performance than usual.

The fact that Messi - and Neymar on the left - were often found hugging the touchlines appeared to be a strategy devised by Enrique to create space and prevent Atletico maintaining their usual compact, narrow shape in defence.

As the game went on, Messi gradually drifted more regularly into a central position, and it was from there that he scored; dribbling into the penalty area, exchanging passes with Ivan Rakitic and reacting quickest to a deflection to stab home.

Whether playing Messi on the right is a long-term strategy or was just for this specific game remains to be seen. And it's uncertain whether Messi would accept a more prolonged stint as a winger. But on this occasion, it worked a treat.

Lionel Messi
Neymar and Messi were left on the bench for the defeat by Real Sociedad last weekend

IMPACT

Unlike last season's six games against Atletico - and even many of his performances this term - in which he drifted in and out of the action, on Sunday night Messi was involved in everything.

He had the first chance, created the opener before laying on another chance for Jordi Alba, started the move which led to a great headed opportunity for Neymar, had a narrow-angled shot blocked, teed up the second goal for Luis Suarez and sent a glancing header narrowly wide. And that was just the first half.

Although Neymar also produced some dazzling moments, Suarez worked devilishly hard and Rakitic dominated the midfield, Messi was without any doubt the key man.

Lionel Messi
Messi completed 12 dribbles against Atletico, his best haul under Enrique

ATTITUDE

Bad news for Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United fans - any thoughts that Messi might be lacking in commitment to the Barca cause and contemplating a change in scenery were completely dispelled by this performance.

Throughout the encounter he worked tirelessly in his unfamiliar position and his mental engagement was clear from his delighted celebration with Neymar after the opening goal, and then again following his own late strike.

Another sign of his positive, highly-motivated attitude was the fact he was back in a defensive position to make the challenge on Gamez which harshly resulted in Atletico's penalty. Messi has been criticised this season for failing to provide protection for right-back Dani Alves, but that was not the case on Sunday.

On this showing, the prospect of him leaving the Nou Camp looks remote indeed.

Lionel Messi
Messi had never conceded a penalty for Barcelona before Sunday

REACTION

Throughout the evening - from the moment his name received the loudest ovation when the teams were announced, to the euphoric response to his goal - one thing was made abundantly clear: Messi is the undisputed King of the Nou Camp.

Barca's fans were desperate for him to do well, producing a sharp collective intake of breath in anticipation every time he received possession and volubly leaping to his defence every time he was felled by a hefty Atletico challenge, which was often.

By the end, the fans were putty in his hands, greeting his goal with yet another hearty rendition of the ubiquitous 'Messi, Messi, Messi' chant.

The local media was similarly smitten, with an editorial in Sport urging: "Don't ever leave Messi!" while Mundo Deportivo hailed Barca's "Pure Dynamite".

Enrique was less emphatic, again refusing to comment directly upon the controversies of the past week and noting ruefully that the tension will return as soon as his team suffer a bad result.

The usually media-shy Messi, however, took the unusual step of giving an interview to Barca's in-house TV channel, during which he belatedly claimed that he had never threatened to leave and never asked for Enrique to be sacked, giving the impression of the perfect picture of happiness as he beamed in front of the cameras.

Lionel Messi
Messi scored, created two and conceded a penalty against Atletico

CONCLUSION

Messi's performance provided the gleaming centre-piece to an outstanding all-round team display from Barca, and on the evidence of this game it is hard to believe there might be such bitter divisions within the camp or any doubt over the Argentine's future.

But the caveat is whether the much-improved performance came because of the manager or despite him.

Was Enrique somehow able to finish such a turbulent week by cajoling a dynamic display of commitment, drive and discipline out of a team which supposedly wants him sacked, or are the players now in charge of the dressing room? Was Messi so motivated because he has decisively won his power struggle with Enrique?

At this stage we do not know - Enrique bristled and angrily evaded the question when it was put to him post-match - and it is perhaps unfair on the victorious manager to even make the suggestion.

But with the soap opera that is FC Barcelona, one thing is certain: this saga is by no means over.

For now, though, Messi can escape to Zurich for Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

As a haven of neutrality, it would not be amiss if he could bring a bit of Switzerland to back to Barcelona.

Line-ups

Barcelona

  • 13Bravo
  • 22Alves da Silva
  • 3Piqué
  • 14MascheranoBooked at 74mins
  • 18Alba
  • 4RakiticSubstituted forRafinhaat 89'minutes
  • 5Busquets
  • 8Iniesta
  • 10MessiBooked at 80mins
  • 9SuárezBooked at 59minsSubstituted forPedroat 90+1'minutes
  • 11Neymar

Substitutes

  • 1ter Stegen
  • 7Pedro
  • 12Rafinha
  • 15Bartra
  • 20Roberto Carnicer
  • 21Correia
  • 31El Haddadi

Atl Madrid

  • 1Moyá Rumbo
  • 20Torres BelénBooked at 49mins
  • 24Giménez de Vargas
  • 2GodínBooked at 83mins
  • 18GámezBooked at 21minsSubstituted forSiqueiraat 83'minutes
  • 14Fernández ArenasSubstituted forTorresat 68'minutes
  • 5Cardoso MendesBooked at 65mins
  • 10Turan
  • 7GriezmannBooked at 69minsSubstituted forGarcia Escuderoat 74'minutes
  • 6Koke
  • 9MandzukicBooked at 33mins

Substitutes

  • 3Siqueira
  • 4Suárez
  • 8Garcia Escudero
  • 13Oblak
  • 17Saúl
  • 19Torres
  • 23Miranda
Referee:
Alberto Undiano Mallenco
Attendance:
81,658

Match Stats

Home TeamBarcelonaAway TeamAtl Madrid
Possession
Home68%
Away32%
Shots
Home17
Away5
Shots on Target
Home7
Away3
Corners
Home1
Away3
Fouls
Home16
Away18

Live Text

Match ends, Barcelona 3, Atlético de Madrid 1.

Full Time

Second Half ends, Barcelona 3, Atlético de Madrid 1.

Offside, Atlético de Madrid. Fernando Torres tries a through ball, but Diego Godín is caught offside.

Foul by Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).

Mario Mandzukic (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Substitution

Substitution, Barcelona. Pedro replaces Luis Suárez.

Foul by Neymar (Barcelona).

Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution

Substitution, Barcelona. Rafinha replaces Ivan Rakitic.

Goal!

Goal! Barcelona 3, Atlético de Madrid 1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner.

Neymar (Barcelona) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Foul by Koke (Atlético de Madrid).

Attempt saved. Tiago (Atlético de Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.

Corner, Atlético de Madrid. Conceded by Jordi Alba.

Attempt saved. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner.

Substitution

Substitution, Atlético de Madrid. Guillherme Siqueira replaces Jesús Gámez.

Booking

Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Luis Suárez (Barcelona) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid).

Booking

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) is shown the yellow card for dangerous play.

Dangerous play by Lionel Messi (Barcelona).

Moyá (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt saved. Raúl García (Atlético de Madrid) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner.

Corner, Atlético de Madrid. Conceded by Gerard Piqué.

Hand ball by Neymar (Barcelona).

Offside, Atlético de Madrid. Arda Turan tries a through ball, but Fernando Torres is caught offside.

Substitution

Substitution, Atlético de Madrid. Raúl García replaces Antoine Griezmann.

Booking

Javier Mascherano (Barcelona) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).

Arda Turan (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick on the right wing.

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

Mario Mandzukic (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Booking

Antoine Griezmann (Atlético de Madrid) is shown the yellow card.

Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Antoine Griezmann (Atlético de Madrid).

Substitution

Substitution, Atlético de Madrid. Fernando Torres replaces Gabi.

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

Koke (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Attempt blocked. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Booking

Tiago (Atlético de Madrid) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

goal

Scores, Results & Fixtures

Sunday 11th January 2015

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