Ousmane Dembele scored the only goal of the game as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid to go three points clear at the top of LaLiga.
Real Madrid’s defeat to Villareal on Saturday gave Xavi’s side the chance to earn some breathing space at the summit and they grasped that opportunity with an impressive display at the Civitas Metropolitano.
Dembele’s composed first-half finish was enough to see off the toothless Rojiblancos, who consequently slipped to fifth place.
Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres were sent off for a late off-thebacll clash as the Blaugrana, who were without the suspended Lewandoski, passed a big test to secure their first top-flight victory since the World Cup break.
Barca quickly stamped their authority on the game by dominating possession, Savic and Jose Gimenez making crucial blocks to deny Ansu Fati.
Pedri was the architect for a superb opening goal in the 22nd minute, bursting into the box and laying the ball off to Gavi, who played it into Dembele’s path and the winger foud the bottom-left corner with a clinical right-foot finish.
Jan Oblak prevented Pedri from adding a second soon after, but Atleti posed an increasing threat and Jose Gimenez headed just wide, before Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept out Antoine Griezmann’s drive with a brilliant one-handed save.
Former Barca man Griezmann had another chance early in the second half, but failed to hit the target from eight yards out.
Savic came to the rescue again by deflecting the dangerous Dembele’s shot wide after Atleti were caught out by a ball over the top.
There was late drama when Savic and Torres were given their marching orders following a tussle and Griezmann had an effort cleared off the line as Barca held on for a big win.
Battle Barca take the initiative
Barca had been beaten without scoring a goal intheir previous two visits to the Metropolitano, but showed the sort of fight that is needed to win a title.
A fiery draw with Espanyol in their first league game after the World Cup was a blow, but they were excellent in the first half and rolled up their sleeves after the break to get the better of Diego Simeone’s tenacious side.
A fifth LaLiga loss of the season for Atleti leaves them behind Real Betis in their battle to qualify for the Champions League.
Dembele the difference
This was another lively display by the direct Dembele, whose pace, power and skill caused Atleti plenty of problems.
The France international now has seven goals and as many assists this season in all competitions. Dembele and Griezmann are the only players to have scored five times and provided five in laLiga.
Pedri pulls the strings
Midfielder Pedri was a joy to watch, dictating the tempo with his crisp passing and movement in the middle of the park and producing the surging run to create the opening goal.
The Spain international created two chances and made 14 passes in the final third in a brilliant performance.