Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez star late on as Barcelona top 10-man Atletico Madrid
BARCELONA, Spain -- Late goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi saw Barcelona beat 10-man Atletico Madrid 2-0 on Saturday as they opened up an 11-point lead at the top of La Liga with just seven games to go.
Diego Costa saw red in the first half for something he said to referee Gil Manzano but Atletico managed to frustrate Barca at Camp Nou until the 85th minute.
Diego Simeone's side couldn't hold out until the end, though, and Barca finally broke through when Suarez curled past Jan Oblak from 20 yards.
Messi added the second just a minute later as Barca edged one step closer to an eighth league title in 11 years.
It will take the unthinkable for Barca not to win the league from here. Ernesto Valverde's side extended their advantage over Atletico, their nearest challengers, to 11 points with only 21 still to play for. Barca's supporters certainly think it's wrapped up. Messi's goal was met with chants of "champions" from the near-100,000 people inside Camp Nou.
The fact that it was Messi and Suarez, again, is also noteworthy. It was the South American duo that stole a point against Villarreal in midweek, and now they've downed Atletico. Time and again they come to Barca's rescue, and now they can set their sights on their next challenge: Manchester United on Wednesday.
Perhaps Arthur and Philippe Coutinho could have done better. The former's performance tailed off slightly in recent weeks and the latter is still searching for his Liverpool form. Valverde might also have liked to have put the game to bed earlier against a side that played for an hour with 10 men.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Valverde picked his strongest available side, holding nothing back for United, and eventually got his reward. The introduction of Malcom helped Barca lift their performance level a few gears.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Wasn't heavily involved in the game. Atletico did little to pin him back, but he wasn't as effective as he can be in the final third.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Barca looked much more solid at the back with him in the side after the defensive shambles against Villarreal in midweek. Got a vital touch to nudge a dangerous cross behind for a corner and generally dealt well with the threat, at various points, of Griezmann, Costa and Alvaro Morata.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- Hit the post in the first half after latching on to a fine Messi pass. More prominent in attack than defence in another lively performance.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- An improved showing after a couple of mediocre performances. Barca will need him at his best for upcoming challenges in the Champions League.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Barca's best midfielder at the moment. So important in both defence and attack.
MF Arthur, 6 -- Conservative in possession but kept things ticking over until being replaced just after the hour by Malcom as Valverde looked to turn the screw.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Was far and away Barca's most dangerous player. Set up Alba's effort which rocked the post and created a glorious chance for Suarez after the break. Also had two or three half-chances of his own, before eventually beating Oblak with a clever no-look shot late on. That's 43 goals for the season.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- Missed a couple of chances, but once again came up with the goods when most needed, producing a brilliant finish from outside the box to steal the points and take his tally of goals in La Liga this season to 20.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Involved in some good moments, including a move with Suarez that ended with the Brazilian drawing a smart save from Oblak. Worked hard in defence, too, but ultimately didn't offer as much as is expected of him once again.
FW Malcom, 6 -- Made an impact, running at makeshift left-back Saul Niguez and generally giving Atletico something different to think about with his pace.
MF Carles Alena, N/R -- Replaced Coutinho for the final 10 minutes.
DF Nelson Semedo N/R -- Came on in the 85th minute, just in time to be on the pitch for both goals.