Atletico unable to compete with FC Barcelona in La Liga

Atletico unable to compete with FC Barcelona in La Liga

"It was a very even match, like the one in the first half of the season", Atletico manager Diego Pablo Simeone said in his postgame news conference.

Against Girona on February 24, the 30-year-old struck a low effort underneath the wall, catching Barcelona's derby rivals by surprise during a 6-1 win.

Messi sent a 25-yard free-kick into the top corner after 26 minutes to put Barca 1-0 up, with away goalkeeper Jan Oblak's touch not enough to keep it out.

It is his 373rd strike in LaLiga and the 13th he has netted in all competitions during 2018.

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Atletico Madrid have been in fine form this season, with Simeone's men earmarking this afternoon's match against Barcelona as a must-win.

La Liga's title race is now surely over, with Barca boasting an eight-point lead which is effectively nine points due to La Liga's use of head-to-head results, rather than goal difference, to split tied teams.

A 1-1 draw back in October against Atletico Madrid was all Valverde could manage in his first meeting between Barca and Atletico, with a Luis Suarez goal in the last ten minutes levelling the scoreline.

"Iniesta is a unique player, a little like Messi, so it's hard to find a player who can replace him", Barca coach Valverde said of his captain.

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BC-SOC-Spanish Roundup, 2nd Ld-Writethru, 584 Messi free kick gives Barcelona win v Atletico, extends leadAP Photo MF109, MF112, MF116Eds: Adds Valverde quote, Levante-Espanyol capsule. The Argentine is having a truly astonishing league campaign this season; he has been involved in 35 goals (23 goals, 12 assists) in La Liga this season, accounting for half of all of Barcelona's league goals so far.

While the severity is still to be confirmed, Andres Iniesta was forced off over the weekend with a hamstring injury and is now a doubt for the Champions League second-leg clash against Chelsea. For Atletico it was the last chance to have a shot in La Liga title. "It was a very important game because being eight points ahead is not the same as two".

"The game is 90 minutes and there's always stages when you don't play well".

Barca lead the standings on 69 points after 27 games, Atletico have 61 and champions Real Madrid 54.

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