Barcelona respond to turbulent week with convincing win over Atletico Madrid
Barcelona responded to a turbulent week by producing one of their best performances of the season to beat champions Atletico Madrid 3-1 at the Nou Camp.
Neymar put the hosts ahead after 12 minutes and Luis Suarez doubled their advantage before the break.
Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for Diego Simeone’s side after Lionel Messi had given away a penalty but the Argentinian sealed the points for the Catalans late on with a close-range finish.
It was a fitting way for Barcelona’s all-time top scorer to round off a superb performance and draw a line under a week of uncertainty following Luis Enrique’s decision to leave him out of the starting line-up for last week’s 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad.
Barcelona failed to beat Atletico on any of the six occasions the two teams met last season, but it was clear with even only a few minutes on the clock that they were not going to be denied victory this time.
Atletico made an intense start but Barcelona soon set about controlling the game. With nine minutes on the clock Messi raced down the right hand side but shot into the side netting.
Just three minutes later the Argentina international was gliding down the same wing again and this time squared the ball to Suarez, who could not control it, so Neymar slid in to steer the ball home from close range.
Seven team-mates rushed over to the Brazilian for a passionate celebration, demonstrating the team’s desire to win this most vital of games and silence their critics.
Barca were on the attack again immediately after Atleti restarted the game. Neymar shot across goal and Miguel Angel Moya spilled the ball out into the six-yard area but got himself up just in time to prevent Suarez from taking advantage on the rebound.
Next came the move of the game, which deserved to result in a goal. Ivan Rakitic released Suarez, who left Jesus Gamez for dead and then sent a looping ball over to the far post for Neymar to nod in, but the Brazilian headed just wide.
Atletico were rattled and looked vulnerable every time Barca went forward. Their lack of confidence was laid bare when the usually assured Diego Godin sent a free-kick straight out for a throw in.
The second goal arrived 10 minutes before the break. Messi looked like he used his right arm to control a bouncing ball and escaped past Gamez to dash towards the box unchallenged – he then slipped the ball into the path of Suarez, who blasted past Moya.
Messi nearly got a goal to add to his all-action first-half display, glancing a cross just a few feet wide of the right-hand post.
At the start of the second half Godin came close to scoring at the same end where he won Atletico the title last season, but this time headed a corner onto the top of the crossbar.
The hosts intensity dropped after the break and Atleti were allowed a way back into the match when Gamez was tripped by Messi just inside the area.
Despite the home fans’ best efforts to put off Manzukic, the Croatian was unmoved and blasted the spot-kick into the roof of the net.
Atletico looked the more likely team to score again and substitute Fernando Torres came close to getting on the end of a cross that would have resulted in an equalizer.
But Barca reasserted themselves in the final 10 minutes, with Messi starting the move which lead to the final goal and then sticking out a foot to divert the loose ball home.