BARCELONA: Lionel Messi scored his 700th career goal for club and country before Atletico Madrid came back to draw 2-2 in the Spanish league last night and deal Barcelona’s title hopes a major blow.
Barcelona’s third draw in four rounds left them in second place, one point behind leaders Real Madrid. Madrid host Getafe tomorrow with a chance to open up a four-point lead with five more matches remaining.
Barcelona struck first in the 11th minute when Atlético striker Diego Costa inadvertently redirected a corner by Messi into his own net.
Costa’s night got worse shortly after when his penalty was blocked by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Atlético, however, got to retake the spot kick when a video review determined that the Barcelona goalkeeper had moved off his line too early.
Saúl Ñíguez stepped up instead of Costa on the second attempt and converted to level the score in the 19th.
Messi restored the host’s lead in 56th by coolly scoring a penalty in the ‘Panenka’ style, chipping it softly past goalie Jan Oblak. The goal was Messi’s 630th club goal to go with 70 for his Argentina. It was also his league-leading 22nd goal of the season.
Atlético responded again through the speed of forward Yannick Carrasco, who was tripped by Nelson Semedo and sent Ñíguez back to the spot. Ter Stegen got a hand on his penalty but not enough to keep it out.
Barcelona’s best chance to get the winner came from Arturo Vidal, who fired a shot just by the post with 20 minutes to go.
As well as defending with their usual steel, Diego Simeone’s side caused Barca plenty of problems down the wings due to the pace of Carrasco and their man-of-the-moment Marcos Llorente, who is enjoying a new lease of life as a forward.
“It’s very hard to try and fight for the title when you drop points two matches in a row but we’ll keep going until the end,” said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets.
Atletico are back in action at home to Real Mallorca on Friday, while Barcelona face a tricky trip to Villarreal on Sunday.
The match was the sixth for both teams since La Liga resumed after a three-month stoppage while Spain contained its Covid-19 outbreak. Games are being played without fans and teams are playing every three nights to finish the competition by July 19.