BARCELONA: Lionel Messi scored his 700th career goal before Atletico Madrid came back to draw 2-2 on Tuesday and deal Barcelona’s La Liga title hopes a major blow.
Messi chipped in a penalty to reach another astonishing milestone at Camp Nou but twice Atletico hit back with spot-kicks of their own, Saul Niguez converting both after Barca took an early lead through Diego Costa’s own goal.
Barca’s third draw in four rounds left them in second place, one point behind leaders Real Madrid. Real host Getafe on Thursday with a chance to open up a four-point lead with five more matches remaining.
Atletico stay third, 12 points behind Real and two points ahead of Sevilla, who won 3-0 at Leganes.
Barca were two points ahead of Real when the league was halted in March because of the coronavirus outbreak.
While Real have won five of five since the resumption after a three-month stoppage, Barca have only won three of six. The pressure is increasing on coach Quique Setien, who took over the team in mid-season with the task of rekindling its attacking spirit.
“It is too bad because we keep dropping points and getting further and further away from the title,” Setien said. “But we have to keep fighting.”
Barcelona struck first in the 11th minute when Atletico striker 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. Atletico, however, got to retake the spot kick when a video review determined that the Barca goalkeeper had moved off his line too early. This time Saul took the ball and he scored the equaliser in the 19th.
Messi restored the hosts 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.
Atletico responded again through the speed of forward Yannick Carrasco, who was tripped by Nelson Semedo and sent Saul back to the spot. Ter Stegen got a hand on his penalty but not enough to keep it out.
Earlier, Sevilla’s Oliver Torres scored twice and Munir El Haddadi added a third to see off Leganes and boost their hopes of holding onto fourth place.
Sevilla sit five points ahead of Getafe, having played a game more. Leganes stay 19th, nine points adrift of safety Mallorca’s 5-1 rout of Celta Vigo rekindled their hopes of avoiding relegation.
Mallorca’s biggest victory of the season moved it into 18th place, five points behind Celta, who are clinging to safety in 17th.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2020