Lionel Messi’s 600th career goal for club and country sent Barcelona eight points clear at the top of the La Liga table after a vital 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid.

Messi converted his third free-kick in three consecutive La Liga matches in the 26th minute to secure a deserved victory against Atletico, who only had one shot on target at the Nou Camp on Sunday afternoon.

Diego Simeone’s men pushed forward in the second half and had four forwards on the pitch for the last 30 minutes, but the visitors could not find an equaliser, with Kevin Gameiro having his 85th-minute strike chalked off for offside.

The result leaves Barcelona comfortably sitting at the top of the table with 11 league games left. Atletico remain in second on 61 points, seven points ahead of third-placed rivals Real Madrid.

Barcelona dominated the first-half against a physical Atletico side who committed ten fouls in the opening 45 minutes and had zero shots on target. Messi fired his first warning sign in the 20th minute after squeezing by three Atletico defenders, but his effort was caught by Jan Oblak.

The league leaders got the opening goal they deserved just six minutes later through Messi from yet another free-kick. The 30-year-old curled home his strike from around 25-yards out into the top corner, despite Oblak getting a palm to it, to reach another significant milestone in his illustrious career.

One sour note for Barcelona in the first-half was the loss of Andres Iniesta, who appeared to be clutching his hamstring before he was forced to leave the pitch and replaced by Andre Gomes.

As Atletico struggled to fashion out any clear-cut chances, Barcelona continued to retain most of the possession. Simeone elected to bring on Gameiro and Angel Correa to assist Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa in search of an equaliser. Griezmann had his first strike of the match in the 72nd minute from range, but it went well over the bar.

Five minutes later, Barcelona came close to going two goals up when Sergio Busquets met Messi’s corner at the far post, but his volley from a tight angle was skillfully punched way by Oblak. Moments later, Barcelona had a penalty appeal turned down when Philippe Coutinho went down in the box after going on a mazy run.

Atletico thought they had levelled the match in the 85th minute through Gameiro, who stabbed the ball in from point-blank range, but Costa was caught offside when he nodded down his pass into his path. Barcelona held on to their 1-0 lead which marked a disappointing afternoon for Atletico Madrid as Barcelona edge closer to the La Liga title.

Once again, Messi stole the show with a fine free-kick that proved the difference in the hotly-contested match at the Nou Camp.

The Argentine spearheaded the majority of Barcelona’s attacks and was the main pivot when the hosts broke forward as Atletico left spaces at the back in the second half.

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