Spanish La Liga
Barcelona1Atl Madrid0

Barcelona 1-0 Atletico Madrid

Lionel Messi
Messi's free-kick was his 28th league goal of the season

Barcelona struck what will surely prove to be a decisive blow in La Liga's title race on Sunday afternoon, establishing an eight-point advantage over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid with a 1-0 win at the Nou Camp.

Although the victory came by the narrowest of margins, it was a fully deserved success for the home team, who managed to create several decent chances to add to Lionel Messi's magnificent free-kick after 25 minutes against a stubborn Atletico defence that has only conceded 12 goals in 27 league games.

The winning goal was also the 600th of Messi's career.

The closest Barca came to a second goal was the unlikely route of a fierce left-footed volley by the excellent Sergio Busquets from a corner, forcing visiting keeper Jan Oblak into a smart reflex save.

There were also a couple of efforts on target for ex-Liverpool man Philippe Coutinho, who delivered a bright performance starting on the right of a forward three and then on the left of midfield after captain Andres Iniesta went off injured.

Messi also had a dangerous shot deflected over the bar and Luis Suarez sent a late curler narrowly wide, while at the other end Atletico only managed one shot on target in the whole game - and that was only a gently looping header by Saul Niguez which home keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved with ease.

Atletico attempted to increase their intensity in the final stages as manager Diego Simeone finished with four forwards in a bold 4-2-4 formation, but Diego Costa was subdued by the excellent home central defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, and reported Barca transfer target Antoine Griezmann couldn't maintain his golden form after coming into the game on the back of consecutive hat-tricks.

Messi magic does it again

Lionel Messi
Messi's impressive stats

It was entirely appropriate that Messi was the match-winner of this top-of-the-table clash with his brilliant first-half free-kick, because the Argentine has been magnificent throughout the campaign to lead La Liga in both scoring (24) and assists (12).

The goal also completed another spectacular week for Messi, who somehow conjured up a new way of making headlines by blasting home magnificent free-kicks of varying styles in three consecutive games.

First, against Girona last weekend, he took advantage of a jumping defensive wall to fire low and hard into the bottom left corner.

Then at Las Palmas on Thursday he unleashed a missile into the top left corner, while today's effort was sent soaring gloriously into the top right.

This potentially title-winning goal also marked another milestone for Messi as he reached the scarcely believable total of 600 career goals for club and country.

And with their main man in this kind of form, it would be unwise to bet against Barca as they set their sights on matching the achievements of the teams led by Pep Guardiola in 2009 and Luis Enrique in 2015 - recording the league, cup and Champions League treble.

They can also create another piece of history by becoming the first team in La Liga history to go through an entire season unbeaten; 27 down, 11 to go.

Quickfire Messi stats:

  • Messi has scored more goals (29) against Sevilla than any other side.
  • The Argentine has scored against the most different opponents (36) than any other La Liga player in history
  • 148 of his 600 goals have come between minutes 76 and 90.
  • Former team-mate Dani Alves has provided the most assists for Messi with 42.

Atletico to focus on Europa League?

Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann had scored seven goals in his previous two La Liga games but barely had a sniff against Barca

La Liga's title race is now surely over, with Barca boasting an eight-point lead which is effectively nine points due to La Liga's use of head-to-head results, rather than goal difference, to split tied teams. The teams drew 1-1 in Madrid in October thanks to a late equaliser from Luis Suarez, so Barca hold that advantage.

With that being that case, it means Atletico need to win all their remaining games - and one of them, in early April, is a trip to face local rivals Real Madrid - and hope that Barca lose three of their remaining 11 games.

As Ernesto Valverde's men have not lost at all so far in the league this season, that looks an extremely forlorn hope for Simeone's team.

In fact, Atletico will now probably turn their attention to the Europa League, having suffered a major disappointment earlier in the campaign by getting knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage.

Despite the laudable consistency they have shown in competing well with Barca and Real Madrid over the last few years, Atletico have not won anything since taking the Spanish Super Cup at the start of the 2014/15 campaign.

For an intense and enormously competitive manager like Simeone that is far too long a wait for the next piece of silverware, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him rotate his starting eleven for upcoming league games and make the Europa League the number one priority - starting with Thursday's last sixteen first leg at home to Lokomotiv Moscow.

Irrespective of their success on that front, it is inevitable there will continue to be speculation over the future of Simeone, who has been in charge since 2011 and previously stated he will leave the club if he feels he can no longer take them forward. Is that time rapidly approaching?

Valverde's stock continues to grow

Ernesto Valverde
Valverde previously managed Athletic Bilbao in La Liga

The game also represented a tactical triumph for understated Barca boss Valverde, who can take great pride in the way his players retained control of the game throughout against a dangerous Atletico team.

Valverde made a change from the 4-4-2 formation he has generally employed in recent weeks by starting with Coutinho on the right of a front three, with Andre Gomes later filling that position after Coutinho moved to replace the injured Iniesta.

It worked well as the narrow midfield trio of Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Iniesta/Coutinho comfortably controlled the flow of the game, with the vast majority of the first half spent inside Atletico's half as the visitors struggled to establish any possession or mount meaningful counter-attacks.

Although the game predictably became more stretched after the break, Barca retained their dominance and always looked the more likely scorers - even in the latter stages when Atletico finished with Costa, Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa up front and started to target direct long balls in the direction of Costa.

It was a game with plenty of tactical manoeuvrings and Valverde added more muscle to his midfield in the latter stages by bringing on Paulinho and reverting to a 4-4-2 formation, and that helped prevent Atletico from developing their build-up play as the home team held on with comfort.

The only negative of the afternoon for Barca was the loss of skipper Iniesta with a hamstring injury, which is likely to keep him out of action for around a month.

That means he won't feature in the second leg of the Champions League tie with Chelsea, and could also miss the first leg of the quarter-finals in Barca progress.

Barcelona travel to Malaga in their next league game on Saturday (kick-off 19:45 GMT), with live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

Line-ups

Barcelona

  • 1ter Stegen
  • 20Roberto
  • 3Piqué
  • 23Umtiti
  • 18Alba
  • 14CoutinhoSubstituted forPaulinhoat 84'minutes
  • 4RakiticBooked at 69mins
  • 5Busquets
  • 8IniestaSubstituted forTavares Gomesat 36'minutes
  • 10MessiBooked at 30mins
  • 9Suárez

Substitutes

  • 11Dembélé
  • 13Cillessen
  • 15Paulinho
  • 17Alcácer
  • 19Digne
  • 21Tavares Gomes
  • 25Vermaelen

Atl Madrid

  • 13Oblak
  • 16VrsaljkoBooked at 31minsSubstituted forCorreaat 59'minutes
  • 24GiménezBooked at 57mins
  • 2Godín
  • 3Filipe LuísSubstituted forHernándezat 74'minutes
  • 8Saúl
  • 5Partey
  • 14Fernández ArenasSubstituted forGameiroat 66'minutes
  • 6Koke
  • 7Griezmann
  • 18Diego Costa

Substitutes

  • 9Torres
  • 11Correa
  • 19Hernández
  • 20Torres Belén
  • 21Gameiro
  • 23Machín Pérez
  • 25Werner
Referee:
Jesús Gil Manzano
Attendance:
88,564

Match Stats

Home TeamBarcelonaAway TeamAtl Madrid
Possession
Home58%
Away42%
Shots
Home16
Away6
Shots on Target
Home5
Away1
Corners
Home12
Away1
Fouls
Home16
Away20

Live Text

Match ends, Barcelona 1, Atlético de Madrid 0.

Full Time

Second Half ends, Barcelona 1, Atlético de Madrid 0.

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

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

Attempt missed. Luis Suárez (Barcelona) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Lionel Messi.

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

Foul by Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid).

Hand ball by Lucas Hernández (Atlético de Madrid).

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

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

Offside, Atlético de Madrid. Ángel Correa tries a through ball, but Diego Costa is caught offside.

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

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

Substitution

Substitution, Barcelona. Paulinho replaces Philippe Coutinho.

Offside, Atlético de Madrid. José Giménez tries a through ball, but Diego Costa is caught offside.

Foul by Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona).

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

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Kevin Gameiro (Atlético de Madrid).

Attempt saved. Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) left footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Lionel Messi with a cross.

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by José Giménez.

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

Attempt blocked. Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Luis Suárez.

Offside, Barcelona. André Gomes tries a through ball, but Luis Suárez is caught offside.

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by José Giménez.

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Diego Costa (Atlético de Madrid).

Substitution

Substitution, Atlético de Madrid. Lucas Hernández replaces Filipe Luis.

Attempt missed. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético de Madrid) left footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Diego Costa.

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

Foul by Thomas Partey (Atlético de Madrid).

Foul by Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona).

Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick on the left wing.

André Gomes (Barcelona) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Diego Godín (Atlético de Madrid).

Booking

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Foul by Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona).

Ángel Correa (Atlético de Madrid) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Corner, Barcelona. Conceded by Koke.

Foul by Luis Suárez (Barcelona).

goal

Scores, Results & Fixtures

Sunday 4th March 2018

As It Stood

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Barcelona27216070135769
2Atl Madrid27187245123361
3Real Madrid27166565293654
4Valencia27165652302253
5Sevilla27143103640-445
6Villarreal27125103632441
7Girona2711793836240
8Eibar27116103439-539
9Real Betis27114124352-937
10Getafe279993325836
11Celta Vigo26105114338535
12Real Sociedad2796124948133
13Leganés2796122332-933
14Ath Bilbao2771192731-432
15Espanyol2771192433-932
16Alavés27101162439-1531
17Levante27312122242-2021
18Las Palmas2655161953-3420
19Dep La Coruña2747162557-3219
20Malaga2734201643-2713
View full Spanish La Liga table

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