Soccer

Lionel Messi scores 700th goal; Barcelona held by Atletico

AP

Lionel Messi scored his 700th career goal for club and country before Atletico Madrid came back to earn a 2-2 draw in the Spanish league on Tuesday, dealing a major blow to Barcelona’s title hopes.

Barcelona’s third draw in four rounds left it in second place, one point behind leader Real Madrid. Madrid hosts Getafe on Thursday with a chance to open up a four-point lead with five matches remaining.

Barcelona was two points ahead of Madrid when the league was halted in March because of the coronavirus outbreak.

While Madrid has won five of five since the resumption after a three-month stoppage, Barcelona has only won three of six. The pressure is increasing on coach Quique Setien, who took over the team in the middle of the 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 Diego 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 the Barcelona goalkeeper had moved off his line too early.

Saul Niguez stepped up instead of Costa on the second attempt and converted to level the score in the 19th.

Messi restored the 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 for Barcelona to go with 70 for Argentina. It was also his league-leading 22nd 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.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico remained undefeated in the six matches since the competition resumed. The club stayed in third place, 12 points behind Madrid.

Simeone left forward Joao Felix on the bench until the second half in favor of the in-form midfielder Marcos Llorente, who is thriving in support of the attack.

Llorente led the attack early on, but Carrasco with his speed on the left flank proved to be the visitors’ biggest weapon. Twice the Belgian forward burst into the box on a counterattack and was taken down by late tackles from Arturo Vidal and Semedo.

"Carrasco came back from the stoppage in better shape, and is now back to playing at his best level,” Simeone said about his forward, who is in his second stint with the club.

Setien opted for leaving Messi and Luis Suarez alone up front and adding an extra midfielder in youngster Riqui Puig, keeping forwards Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati on the bench. Puig had one of his best performances for Barcelona, showing his passing and ball control skills as he linked up well with Messi and his other teammates.

Barcelona is not blowing out rivals like it used to, but its main problem is its failure to protect leads. It also went ahead twice at Celta Vigo on Saturday only to concede twice to draw 2-2.

"All the games that are left are super important and all points we drop hurt our chances,” the 20-year-old Puig said after his second straight start. "The other day the same thing happened, they were able to fight back in games we were winning thanks to our silly mistake or lapses in concentration.”

Messi helped put Barcelona ahead when he struck a corner low and hard at the near post, where Costa tried to clear it but instead let it hit the inside of his leg. The ball bounced off the turf and left Oblak no chance.

Before his penalty, Messi almost curled in a shot from the right side that came inches from bending into the far corner of the goal.

Barcelona’s best chance to get the winner came from Vidal, who fired a shot just by the post with 20 minutes to go.

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