Atletico Madrid put up a ferocious fight at the Vicente Calderon, but Barcelona emerged triumphant regardless. It was a brutal match, featuring thirteen bookings, and Atletico probably didn't deserve to lose, but a wonderful free kick by Lionel Messi in the 81st minute broke a 1-1 deadlock, and the visitors were able to hold on despite a flurry of Atleti attacks in the closing stages.
Things looked bright for Barca when Messi had the ball in the back of the net eight minutes in, taking advantage of some phenomenal work from Alexis Sanchez to power into the heart of the box and dink delightfully over Thibaut Courtois only to see his effort disallowed due to a handball call. To add insult to injury, referee Miguel Perez Lasa showed the star a yellow card for his infraction.
The visitors came close again when Courtois just about kept out Xavi's vicious free kick, but Barcelona were not to be denied. Dani Alves opened the scoring in the 36th minute, taking advantage of Cesc Fabregas' excellent run and pass to tap in from close range.
The first half ended in fairly sour fashion when Fabregas, apparently taking offence to an earlier challenge, wiped out Francisco Jaunfran as the right back was shielding the ball near the corner flag. It was an appalling tackle, coming in from behind against a helpless standing opponent, and Fabregas probably should have walked for it. Instead, he saw yellow, and life went on.
Atletico were lively after the restart and soon leveled thanks to Radamel Falcao, who took advantage of mistakes by Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets to volley past Victor Valdes and make it 1-1. The hosts gave as good as they got in the second half, with Falcao nearly scoring again and the likes of Adrian and Arda Turan causing problems for the Barcelona back line.
However, the visitors were threatening plenty themselves. They were disappointed to have a second goal disallowed for handball, this time by Alexis Sanchez (he also received a booking for his troubles), but eventually they'd pull ahead again, with Lionel Messi lashing home a free kick while Atletico were still setting up their wall. It was a peach of a strike, straight into the top corner from a tight angle and Courtois would have been hard pressed to save it had he been in position, which, of course, he wasn't.
Atletico didn't deserve to be down and Valdes was forced to make another fine save as the home side pushed for the equaliser, denying Gabi after the midfielder's fierce volley looked destined for the bottom corner, but despite their best efforts, they slumped to their first loss under new manager Diego Simeone. Pep Guardiola's men remain ten points behind Real Madrid in the title race, but that's a better than twelve, and Barcelona will take it.