Luis Suarez makes his mark as Barcelona defeat Atletico Madrid
Barcelona took a huge step towards winning La Liga following Saturday's 2-1 win over nine-man Atletico Madrid.
Goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez propelled Barcelona to victory against a side who had Filipe Luis sent off for a horrific lunge on Messi in the first half and then Diego Godin after the break, following a couple of needless fouls on Suarez.
The visitors' plan to remain robust at the back worked wonders early on and Koke's early opener meant the Catalans were left with the tough challenge of finding a way through.
Fortunately, Barca's standout attacking players combined to turn the scoreline around, despite Los Colchoneros' mental strength and physicality.
If Luis Enrique's men win their game in hand against Sporting Gijon, the difference over Atletico would increase to six points, which is a significant advantage to be proud of this stage of the season.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 8 -- Produced a spectacular save early on and excelled again after the break to deny Diego Simeone's team a much-needed equaliser. Sure, he failed to secure the clean sheet, but Koke's strike was simply unstoppable. Also denied Antoine Griezmann with Barcelona holding on to their slender 2-1 advantage.
DF Dani Alves, 8 -- Hit a spectacular volley which would have certainly beaten Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak if it hadn't been deflected by Jose Maria Gimenez. Found Suarez with a fine long pass which resulted in Barca's second goal.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- A focused display from the Argentina international. Partnered well with Gerard Pique, reducing the spaces for Atletico's forwards to run into.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- He made a couple of clumsy passes when trying to build from the back line early on, but he became more confident and influential as the game developed.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 -- Reassuringly disciplined defensively. Assisted Messi for the hosts' crucial opener after a trademark overlapping run from the left wing.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- His prompt tackling and impeccable positioning helped him win the fierce midfield battle against Simeone's battlers. The Catalan was superb once again and is in outstanding form at present. Barcelona will need Busquets as thoughts soon turn to the resumption of the Champions League, while his influence will also be critical as La Liga's title race heats up in the coming months.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- Barca's attack constantly crossed the path of their captain which resulted in the Catalans dominating the game in the opponents' half. His passing could have been more accurate at times, however.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Drifted into open areas and ensured the ball kept flowing briskly in Barca's attacking third. Gave his all at both ends of the pitch, as has been the case since he joined from Sevilla.
FW Neymar, 7 -- Despite doubts over his fitness in the lead up to the match -- as well as being on the receiving end of many aggressive tackles, the Brazilian did not hesitate in his attempt to create favourable situations for both himself and others.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Punished Atletico with the first good chance found himself on the end of; a sign of his unparalleled brilliance in front of goal. Frustrated Godin to the point of desperation, which resulted in Los Colchoneros' centre-back deservedly receiving a red card.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Scored his 21st career goal against Atletico with a blunt strike, giving his team the vital equaliser that enabled their comeback. As influential as ever when on the ball and far more involved in chasing after it when not in possession. This was another memorable display of leadership from the more mature version of the legendary No.10.
MF Arda Turan, 7 -- Replaced Rakitic after 65 minutes to face his former club. Contributed well when involved in attacking transitions. Should have added his name to the score sheet, but his shot went frustratingly wide.
MF Sergi Roberto, N/R -- Came on for Alves with nine minutes to go, slotting well in midfield and ensuring the three points remained at the Camp Nou.