Lionel Messi's Late Goal Lifts Barcelona to 1-0 La Liga Win vs. Atletico Madrid

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2019

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 1: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona  during the La Liga Santander  match between Atletico Madrid v FC Barcelona at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on December 1, 2019 in Madrid Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga after a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Sunday.  

Lionel Messi scored an 86th-minute winner for the defending champions, who also had goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank for making a number of superb saves in the Spanish capital.

The result means Barca are back above bitter rivals Real Madrid on goal difference, while Atleti have slipped to sixth.

Both teams wasted little time trading significant shots amid a heavy downpour. Atleti had the best chances but were frequently thwarted by Ter Stegen.

The German was nearly beaten by his own player early on, when Junior Firpo deflected a cross onto the post:

Ter Stegen was fully alert moments later when Joao Felix picked out Mario Hermoso at the far post:

Alvaro Morata thought he'd put the hosts in front six minutes before the break, only to see his header rebuffed by an imperious Ter Stegen:

His heroics between the sticks nearly allowed Barca to pinch the lead with the halftime break rapidly approaching. Gerard Pique got up to meet a corner but could only send his header off the bar.

The Blaugrana upped the ante after the restart, with Luis Suarez twice forcing Jan Oblak into saves. Suarez was causing problems, but Antoine Griezmann was worryingly quiet against his former club.

Ironically, Griezmann's replacement at Atletico, Joao Felix, was acquitting himself well. The 20-year-old was picking accurate passes, like the one to Hermoso in the first half, and finding space with smart movement off the ball.

It was a surprise then when Atleti boss Diego Simeone withdrew Felix for Vitolo on 65 minutes, incurring rancour from the home faithful in the process. Yet the change didn't initially stymie Atletico's efforts going forward, with Pique lucky to avoid a second booking and early dismissal after lunging into Morata.

More changes took place when Barca swapped Arthur Melo for Arturo Vidal and Thomas Lemar replaced Angel Correa in Atleti's ranks. The new faces couldn't inspire an instant upturn in either side's fortunes, though.

Typically, it was left to a more established name to prove decisive when Messi was played through by Suarez. The masterful No. 10 held his nerve and once again inflicted maximum punishment on a familiar victim:

Messi was the difference, as he's been so many times during his storied career. Barcelona will remain the team to beat in Spain as long as the 32-year-old continues to ply his trade.

Meanwhile, Atleti still can't find the winning formula in the title race after last lifting the prize in 2014. 

  

What's Next?

Atletico are away to Villarreal on Friday, while Barca will return to action to host Mallorca on Saturday.

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