FC Barcelona can’t control Real Madrid’s scorelines for the rest of the season, and with a game in hand los blancos remain a point clear at the top of the table.
But after the heartbreaker against PSG, Barça desperately needed to bounce back and show that there’s still life to be found in this team. Atlético de Madrid is not an easy team to do that against.
Somehow, however, they did.
The game certainly won’t assail the majority of fan’s worries – an equivalent performance would not come close to reversing the 4-0 deficit from Paris, but it was a necessary victory, dug out late in the game.
The answer came, as it always seems to, from the feet of one Lionel Messi.
With the game tied 1-1 in the 86th minute, the Argentine took a free kick and pursued it into the area. Luis Suárez fed him the ball, and though Jan Oblak blocked his first shot, his attempt on the rebound put Barcelona 2-1 up in the dying minutes of the match.
The lead up to Messi’s game winner was a nervy affair.
The game stayed scoreless for just over 60 minutes. Both sides failed to capitalize on several clear chances, and Atleti looked particularly dangerous in the opening minutes.
Marc-André ter Stegen was stellar in goal for Barcelona, doing well to keep things level into the second half.
Neymar and Samuel Umtiti were other standouts – the former was Barcelona’s best man on the pitch for the majority of the game. Additionally, Barcelona is now 14 for 14 in games where Umtiti starts.
After the break, the game opened up and felt less one-sided. The rapid back and forth suggested a goal was forthcoming, the question remaining who would strike first.
It was Barça, with a scrappy goal dug out by Rafinha for his sixth of the season. Barcelona had possession in the Atleti box, where several attempts were deflated and deflected before Suárez got the ball to the Brazilian.
GOAL! Just after the hour mark, @Rafinha opens the scoring!
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) February 26, 2017
lSix minutes later, the home side were level. Diego Godín scored his second of the season off a header from a Koke free kick.
Barcelona was suddenly in the unenviable position of needing a late winner on a day where they weren’t looking their best. Messi in particular was not on top form, and yet he found a way to deliver anyways.
The genius of Messi (well, part of it) is that his presence makes it nearly impossible to ever rule Barcelona out of a contest. As long as he’s on the pitch, there’s always a chance something incredible is about to happen. And while his match-winner was not a Puskás entry, he was quick to react after his free kick and tenacious enough in the box to get the goal his team needed.
Although it was a hardly a performance to remember, the victory boasted some remarkable statistics for the club. This was their 20th consecutive league game against Atleti without a loss, their 17th consecutive unbeaten league game, and Messi’s 400th win with the club.
A draw would have felt world-ending, but a victory briefly sent Barça to the top of the table. Whatever happens in the coming match, this win means that the race lives to see another week.
Extended English match highlights here: