MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona marked their crowning as La Liga champions with a come from behind 2-1 win at third-placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday despite finishing the game with 10 men.
Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Espanyol on Saturday meant that the Catalans, who now have four titles in five years and 22 in all, could no longer be caught.
But in keeping with a number of their recent performances Barca started lethargically and were behind just after half-time when Radamel Falcao took advantage of slips by Gerard Pique and Alex Song to slot home his 28th league goal of the season.
Lionel Messi then had to leave the field as his injury problems continued after Barca had made all three substitutions.
However, they staged a late comeback as Alexis Sanchez prodded home from close range and then a bizarre own goal from Gabi 11 minutes from time kept them on course to match Real’s 100 points tally from last season.
The Catalans had been boosted by the return of Messi to the starting line-up for the first time in a league match since March, but the Argentine struggled for time and space on the ball as a typically aggressive Atletico side didn’t in any way reserve their energies for the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid on Friday.
Koke fired the hosts’ best effort of the half just over, whilst at the other end Cristian Tello bent a shot inches wide of the far post in a first-half of relatively few chances.
Atletico were soon in front after the break though as Gabi won a tussle with Pique on the ground and prodded the ball forward in the direction of Falcao who has given all the time he needed to slot the ball beyond Jose Manuel Pinto into the far corner.
Tito Vilanova then introduced Sergio Busquets and David Villa in a bid to energise his troops but that moved backfired as having already withdrawn the injured Dani Alves, Barca were left with 10 men when Messi hobbled down the tunnel 20 minutes from time.
The visitors were level two minutes later though when Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas exchanged passes and the Chilean steered the ball inside Thibaut Courtois’ near post.
And the winner arrived just six minutes later in bizarre fashion as Tello sped down the left and his cut-back found Villa whose shot deflected firstly off Diego Godin and then into Gabi’s midriff before creeping in via the underside of the bar.
Diego Costa had one final effort to rescue a point for Atletico, but Pinto made a decent save to ensure Barca can celebrate their open top bus parade through the Catalan capital on Monday in style.