Messi scores as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid

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Barcelona, Jan 12:  Lionel Messi scored one goal and set up two more for Neymar and Luis Suarez as Barcelona beat defending champion Atletico Madrid 3-1 on Sunday, rejuvenating its Spanish league title bid amid a chaotic week for the Catalan club.

Stifled by Atletico in six winless meetings last season, Messi shredded its vaunted defense with run after run, passing for Neymar to score in the 12th minute and for Suarez to double the lead at Camp Nou in the 35th.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (left), duels for the ball against Atletico Madrid's goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid

Messi was guilty of also setting up Atletico's goal in the 57th when he fouled Jesus Gamez in the area, allowing Mario Mandzukic to score from the spot. But the star forward finished off the visitors with a goal three minutes from time for his 25th goal in as many games this season.

Barcelona took control of second place, one point behind leader Real Madrid. Atletico in third trails the pacesetters by four. Madrid still has a game in hand.

Elsewhere, Sevilla tightened the race at the top with a 2-0 win at Almeria thanks to goals by Vicente Iborra and Jorge "Coke" Andujar, moving into fourth place two points behind Atletico. Elche moved off last place with a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao in its first victorious visit to the Basque club after 20 trips.

Granada fell to the bottom of the standings after a 14th straight game without a win following its 1-1 draw at home with Real Sociedad. Eight months ago Atletico won the league title in a winner-takes-all finale at Camp Nou, whose fans ended up honoring the victors while jeering their own team.

On Sunday, it was "Messi! Messi!" that rang out after Suarez's goal. Barcelona has had one of its most tumultuous weeks in recent memory after it lost its appeal of a one-year transfer ban for violating FIFA's rules for registering youth players.

That blow was followed by the firing of its sports director on Monday and president Josep Bartomeu announcing the club would hold early elections after this season.


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