By Richard Martin
MADRID Lionel Messi came to Barcelona's rescue for the second time in a week by snatching a late winner to give his side a barely deserved 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday which provisionally took the champions top of La Liga.Rafinha had put Luis Enrique's side ahead against the run of play in the 63rd minute but Godin nodded in Koke's free kick to level in the 70th and bring back memories of his title-clinching goal for Atletico at the Nou Camp in May 2014.For much of the game, Barca looked to be suffering a lack of confidence from their 4-0 thrashing at Paris St Germain in the Champions League. They made a timid start and had goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to thank for impressive saves in either half.Just as he had done the week before at Leganes, however, Messi grabbed all the points for his side, producing an instinctive near-post finish in the 87th minute following a free kick.Barca lead the standings on 54 points, two ahead of Real Madrid and Sevilla although Zinedine Zidane's side can recover top spot with a game in hand if they beat Villarreal later on Sunday.
Boosted by their 4-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, Atletico made a dominant start, surrounding Barca's area and pouncing on any mistake.A misplaced pass out from Ter Stegen was quickly intercepted and led to Antoine Griezmann getting an early shot in but Barca defender Samuel Umtiti got his body in the way.
Ter Stegen denied Griezmann on several occasions, leaping to the top corner to tip a thumping first-half shot over the bar and then thwarting the France striker with his knee after the break.Down the other end, Atletico's Jan Oblak turned away a curling Messi free kick to announce his return after 10 weeks out injured, while Luis Suarez had a goal ruled out for a foul in a goalmouth scramble.It took a scrappy strike from Rafinha to break the deadlock, the Brazilian firing into the far corner when the ball bounced fortuitously towards him, while Messi also benefited from a lucky ricochet to settle the game late on.
"I think we played a perfect game but they had two rebounds and they took advantage of them and leave here with the three points," said Atletico captain Gabi.Barca coach Luis Enrique added: "It was a very hard-fought victory, we struggled in the first half because of their pressure and the conditions of the pitch but we scored at the end and that will give the players a huge morale boost." (Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Neil Robinson)
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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2017 17:59:45 IST