Messi goal extends Atlético winless run against Barcelona

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              FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his opening goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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MADRID (AP) — Atlético Madrid’s ordeal against Barcelona continues in the Spanish league.

Lionel Messi made up for a lackluster performance by scoring in the 86th minute on Sunday, giving Barcelona a 1-0 win at Atlético and extending the Catalan team’s unbeaten run against the Madrid rival to 19 league matches.

“It’s always a big advantage to have Messi in even games like these,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Messi struck with a low left-footed shot from outside the area after being set up by Luis Suárez to keep Barcelona unbeaten against Atlético for nine years.

“We played a great match, but when Leo shows up he can make a difference,” Atlético forward Saúl Ñíguez said. “It’s incredibly easy for him to do these things, that’s why he is the best.”

It was Messi’s 30th career goal against Atlético, which hadn’t lost at home in 17 matches in all competitions.

“Messi appeared out of the match for a long time, but when he had a chance he broke free and scored a great goal,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said.

The victory put Barcelona back at the top of the league above Real Madrid — which won at Alavés on Saturday — on goal difference.

Atlético dropped to sixth place, six points behind Barcelona and Real Madrid which have a game in hand after their October clásico was postponed until Dec. 18 because of a separatist rally in the Catalan capital.

Sevilla stayed third after beating last-place Leganés 1-0 earlier Sunday, while Real Sociedad is in fourth place after routing Eibar 4-1 on Saturday.

“The league is very long, we have to keep working to stay close to the leaders,” Simeone said.

The match marked Antoine Griezmann’s return to the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium after being transferred to Barcelona at the end of last season. He was loudly jeered by most Atlético fans nearly every time he touched the ball. The France striker had a quiet performance and never posed a significant threat.

Atlético had most of the chances at the Metropolitano, but both teams squandered good opportunities throughout the match.

Each side hit the woodwork in the first half, and both goalkeepers — Atlético’s Jan Oblak and Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen — made some good saves to keep the game scoreless.

Messi broke the deadlock after an exchange with Suárez, whose perfect touch just outside the box set up the playmaker’s well-placed low shot.

Atlético’s last league win over Barcelona was in February 2010, a 2-1 victory at the now demolished Vicente Calderón Stadium. It hadn’t lost at the Metropolitano since a game against Real Madrid in February.

Barcelona has won 14 matches against Atlético since that loss in 2010, with five draws. Atlético’s last win against Barcelona in all competitions was a 2-1 result in the quarterfinals of the 2015-16 Champions League. Atlético’s worst streak against a single club is a 23-match winless run against Real Madrid from 2000 to 2013.

SEVILLA STAYS CLOSE

Sevilla beat Leganés to keep pace with the leaders.

Brazilian defender Diego Carlos scored in the 63rd to give the team its fifth straight win in all competitions.

Julen Lopetegui’s squad hasn’t lost in 10 matches in all competitions, since a 4-0 rout at Barcelona in the league.

Leganés is at the bottom of the 20-team standings with six points from 15 matches. It hasn’t won in five consecutive league games, with four losses and a draw. Three of the losses came against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla.

ATHLETIC WINS AGAIN

Athletic Bilbao beat Granada 2-0 at home for its fourth straight victory.

Raúl García scored from a penalty kick in the 41st and Yuri Berchiche sealed the win in the 83rd at the San Mamés Stadium, putting Athletic in fifth place with 26 points, five behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Granada dropped to 10th place, with 21 points.

HOME STRUGGLES

Espanyol remained winless in eight home matches in the league this season after a 4-2 loss to 10-man Osasuna, which played without defender Facundo Roncaglia from the 52nd because of a second yellow card for dangerous play.

Espanyol, which has lost four of its last five league games, stayed second to last with nine points. Osasuna, which had one win in its last four league games, jumped to ninth place.

Also, seventh-place Getafe routed 11th-place Levante 4-0 will all goals coming in the second half.