Madrid: Argentine superstar Lionel Messi came on as a second-half substitute and led defending champion FC Barcelona to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory here on Saturday over Atletico Madrid in Spanish-league action.
Messi started the match on the bench after missing training on Friday to accompany his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo, who gave birth on Friday to their second son, but the 30 minutes he was on the field were enough to tilt the match in the Catalan club's favour.
As expected, the two sides employed the same tactics as in previous matches, with Barca dominating ball possession and the Colchoneros seeking opportunities to counter-attack.
The first half was all Barcelona, with Atletico barely entering the visitors' half of the field and only keeping the game scoreless thanks in part to help from the crossbar, which denied a golden scoring opportunity from Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
Atletico, however, finally got its attacking game in gear at the start of the second half, with Fernando Torres receiving a perfect pass from Portuguese midfielder Tiago Mendes and finishing past German net minder Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 51st minute.
The fans at Vicente Calderon Stadium erupted, but their joy was fleeting. Just four minutes later, Neymar executed a spectacular free kick that curled into the upper-left corner of the goal past a helpless Jan Oblak to knot the match at 1-1.
Barcelona then got another huge boost at the match's one-hour mark when Messi came on for Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic and immediately made his presence felt by making a superb pass to Neymar, whose shot appeared to be blocked by Uruguayan defender Diego Godin's hand.
No penalty was called, but there was still time left for Messi to work his magic.
In the 77th minute he finished off a patented Barcelona-type goal, dinking a shot past Oblak after being set up by a delicate touch pass by Suarez.
With the win, Barcelona grabbed sole possession of first place in La Liga with nine points, two ahead of Real Madrid.
Celta Vigo and Eibar, however, will both have a chance to move into a tie for first when they take on Las Palmas and Malaga, respectively, on Sunday.