Barca back in title race after beating Atletico 3-1Lionel Messi scored one goal and set up two more for Neymar and Luis Suarez as Barcelona beat defending champion Atletico Madrid, 3-1, on Sunday, rejuvenating its Spanish league title bid amid a chaotic week for the Catalan club.
Stifled by Atletico in six winless meetings last season, Messi shredded its vaunted defense with run after run, passing for Neymar to score in the 12th minute and for Suarez to double the lead at Camp Nou in the 35th.
Messi was guilty of also setting up Atletico’s goal in the 57th when he fouled Jesus Gamez in the area, allowing Mario Mandzukic to score from the spot.
But the star forward finished off the visitors with a goal three minutes from time for his 25th goal in as many games this season.
Barcelona has had one of its most tumultuous weeks in recent memory after it lost its appeal of a one-year transfer ban for violating FIFA’s rules for registering youth players. That blow was followed by the firing of its sports director on Monday and President Josep Bartomeu announcing the club would hold early elections after this season.
But Messi and his teammates pushed those troubles aside for its second lopsided win in four days after thrashing Elche 5-0 in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.
“This was an important win,’’ Neymar said. “[The crisis] is over and now we have to keep our heads focused on the pitch. We don’t have any problems. That is all over and we are united.’’
Barcelona Manager Luis Enrique, however, didn’t think even this big win would open a new chapter for the team.
“Without a doubt, wins are the only thing that can calm this wave,’’ said Luis Enrique. “All wins reinforce the team, but these are three points, nothing more. When we lose again the tension will come back. It is inevitable.’’
Barcelona took control of second place, one point behind leader Real Madrid. Atletico in third trails the pacesetter by four. Madrid still has a game in hand.
Elsewhere, Sevilla tightened the race at the top with a 2-0 win at Almeria thanks to goals by Vicente Iborra and Jorge “Coke’’ Andujar, moving into fourth place two points behind Atletico with a game in hand.
Elche moved off last place with a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao in its first victorious visit to the Basque club after 20 trips.
Granada fell to the bottom of the standings after a 14th straight game without a win following its 1-1 draw at home with Real Sociedad. AP