Filipe Luis and Diego Godin both saw red as Barcelona narrowly defeated Atletico Madrid 2-1 on Saturday to open up a three-point lead atop La Liga.
Jordi Alba missed La Blaugrana’s 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao midweek with a hamstring strain, but he returned in place of Jeremy Mathieu as Claudio Bravo was also back in goal, Sergio Busquets came in for Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Roberto’s berth was filled by Andres Iniesta. Birthday boy Arda Turan, however, was only a substitute against his former club.
Atleti, meanwhile, opted for a 4-4-2 formation, with Yannick Carrasco partnering Antoine Griezmann in attack and Fernando Torres completely omitted from the squad. Meanwhile, Zamora leader Jan Oblak replaced Miguel Moya between the sticks, while Augusto Fernandez made up a narrow midfield quartet at Luciano Vietto’s expense.
Atleti flew out of the traps as they packed on the intensity, to the extent they were almost man-marking Barca’s defenders, and they took a deserved lead when a deep cross was met at the far post by Koke, the midfielder totally unmarked and volleying the ball past Bravo.
However, their good start quickly fizzled out, with Barca eventually waking up and dominate possession, in turn forcing Los Colchoneros to resort to cynical play, and the Catalans equalised on the half-hour mark through Lionel Messi, who turned home Jordi Alba’s pullback with aplomb after silky build-up down the left.
The turnaround was then complete with seven minutes of the first half remaining, a long ball over the top expertly trapped by Luis Suarez, who sprang Atleti’s offside trap and subsequently fired an angled finish past Oblak.
With the Atleti yellow count creeping up, they were faced with an even-greater mountain to climb after the restart, when Filipe Luis flew into Messi’s shin with his studs, leaving the referee with no choice but to show the left-back a straight red card.
Barca proceeded to take total control of second half, and with Atleti showing little ambition in their play, the result was confirmed when Godin foolishly crashed into Suarez near the right corner flag, despite already being booked.
Nonetheless, Atleti did come a whisker away from a surprise equaliser early doors as Griezmann flew onto Carrasco’s cross from the right and forced Bravo into a save with his feet, while Arda blasted a daisy-cutter fractionally wide of Oblak’s far post.
Having succumbed to an inferior head-to-head with Barca, which may influence the title race, Los Rojiblancos’ miserable afternoon was capped off when Augusto left the game in a mini-ambulance with a suspected knee injury.