Spanish La Liga: Barcelona come from behind to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1
Madrid: Newly-crowned Liga champions Barcelona kicked off their title celebrations with a 2-1 comeback victory over Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
Real Madrid`s 1-1 draw with Espanyol on Saturday assured the Blaugrana the title before a ball was kicked, and that seemed to take a lot of the sting out of this first vs third encounter, with both teams looking well off the pace.
Radamel Falcao belatedly broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half, but Barca would respond, with Alexis Sanchez restoring parity in the 72nd minute, and a Gabi own goal turning the score around for good with 10 minutes to go.
The Catalans move onto 91 points for the season, and with three wins from their remaining three games, can equal the 100-point record set by Madrid in the 2011-12 campaign.
Adriano was drafted in to partner Gerard Pique in defence, with Cristian Tello and Sanchez flanking Messi up front, and former Arsenal pair Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song in midfield.
Atletico’s gameplan was clear – deny the Catalans time on the ball. Their relentless pressing was a feature of a first half that struggled for genuinely exciting moments, with the midfield battle taking centre stage.
With goalmouth action hard to come by from open play, it was no surprise to see the first chance came from a dead-ball scenario, when Diego Godin headed narrowly off target following a corner 20 minutes in.
Moments later, Atletico went close again when Falcao teed up Adrian Lopez for a shot from the edge of the area, but the forward could not find his range and angled the wrong side of the post.
The opening half rather petered out after that, with a distinct end of season feel to proceedings as both sides lacked any sort of drive or desire to force the issue in attack.
Dani Alves was withdrawn for Marc Bartra due to injury, before, on the stroke of the interval, Cristian Tello curled the best chance of the half inches wide after cutting in from the left flank.
But six minutes after the restart, the game was turned on its head. Bartra initially surrendered possession in a dangerous area, Barca failed to clear their lines in time, and Gabi slipped in Falcao, who poked home calmly from 10 yards.
The goal perhaps came somewhat against the run of play, as Barca had began the second half brightly, and the Catalans continued to look the more superior side despite falling behind.
Sanchez blasted about a foot too high from 25 yards out, before substitute Villa mirrored the effort from a free-kick just in front of the Atletico penalty area - but they were handed a blow when Lionel Messi limped off to the sidelines, with all three subs already used.
But with 18 minutes remaining, the visitors would find a way back into the game. Sanchez played a neat one-two with Fabregas, whose return ball was stabbed towards the corner by the Chilean, wrong-footing Thibaut Courtois en route to the back of the net.
And it got even better for Barca eight minutes later, when Tello’s low centre was directed towards goal by Villa, and helped into the back of the net by a looping deflection off the leg of Gabi.
What little momentum Atletico had left was completely eradicated by the unfortunate own-goal, and Barca were able to close out the game to take home the win, and keep their chase for the points record alive.