MADRID (AP) — Barcelona showed Sunday why it shouldn’t be discarded just yet as a threat in Spanish soccer.
The Catalan club beat Atlético Madrid 4-2 in the Spanish league to end a five-game winless run against Diego Simeone’s team. Barcelona overtook Atlético to move to fourth and is back in the Champions League qualification places for the first time since the third round.
Real Madrid later increased its gap at the top over Sevilla to six points by beating Granada 1-0 at home.
Barcelona played well to take a big lead before hanging tough while playing more than 20 minutes with a man down.
Xavi Hernández’s team conceded early but rallied to a 4-1 lead before Atlético threatened to get back into the game in the second half. Luis Suárez — playing in front of Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou Stadium for the first time since joining Atlético — pulled the visitors closer in the 58th, then Dani Alves was sent off with a straight red card in the 69th after video review saw him stepping on Yannick Carrasco’s leg from behind.
Barcelona held on, though, earning the victory that could prove a turning point in what has been a challenging season so far.
“It was an important victory, against the defending champions,” Xavi said. “It was the best Barcelona of the season during some parts of the game. If we keep working hard like this we will lose very few matches.”
Barcelona hadn’t beaten Atlético since a league match in December 2019. It had gone 11 consecutive matches without defeating either Atlético or Real Madrid in any competition.
Atlético hasn’t beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou since 2006. Simone’s team paid the price for a dreadful performance by its defense. It was coming off a league win over Valencia but had lost its previous three matches in all competitions.
“We have to find a way to improve defensively,” Simeone said. “We have to keep working on that.”
Atlético’s defense usually ranks top in the league but it entered the weekend as the 11th-best in goals conceded.
Barcelona came into the game one point behind Atlético in the standings. It trails third-place Real Betis by two points and second-place Sevilla by nine points. Barcelona is 15 points behind Madrid with a game in hand.
“It was an important match and we are glad we got the victory to get back into the Champions League places,” said Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo, who scored one of the goals for the hosts.
Both teams got off to a fast start and created back-and-forth scoring opportunities, but it was Atlético that got on the board first after Suárez set up Carrasco’s shot from inside the area in the eighth minute.
Barcelona equalized two minutes later with a superb volley from Jordi Alba from one of the corners of the area following a pass by Alves.
Gavi Páez put the hosts ahead with a header in the 21st after a cross by Adama Traoré, and Araújo added to the lead from close range off the rebound of Gerard Piqué’s header that hit the crossbar.
Alves scored his first goal since returning to Barcelona with a low strike from inside the area in the 49th before Suárez pulled Atlético closer with a header about 10 minutes later. Suárez didn’t celebrate after the goal and gestured to Barcelona fans for forgiveness by putting his hands together.
Traoré made his debut after returning to Barcelona on loan from Wolverhampton until the end of the season. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, signed at the end of the transfer window, replaced Traoré in the 61st.
Ousmane Dembélé, who was included in Xavi Hernández’s squad despite his refusal to sign a new contract or secure a move to a new club in the transfer window, stayed on the bench and was jeered by the Barcelona fans.
Daniel Wass and Reinildo Mandava made their debut for Atlético.
Madrid had a hard time against relegation-threatened Granada, with Marco Asensio scoring the winner in the 74th.
Madrid had been winless in its last two matches, being eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey and held by Elche to a draw at home in the league.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team was without Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior, its top two forwards this season.
Villarreal won 2-0 at third-place Real Betis to end a four-match winning streak by Manuel Pellegrini’s team in all competitions. Pau Torres and Étienne Capoue scored a goal in each half for Villarreal, which has won two in a row and moved to sixth place.
Valencia’s winless streak in the league reached five straight games after it was held by Real Sociedad to a 0-0 draw. The result kept seventh-place Sociedad with only one win in its last nine league games.