La Liga: Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez sink nine-man Atletico

Story highlights

Barcelona beats Atletico 2-1

Atletico has two men sent off

Messi and Suarez score for Barca

Holder Arsenal through in FA Cup

CNN  — 

Barcelona took a giant step towards retaining the La Liga title with a 2-1 victory over nine-man Atletico Madrid in a crunch top of the table clash Saturday.

The two teams had gone into the match level on points, but with Barcelona having played a game less, and the importance of the fixture was underlined by the 94,990 best attendance of the season in the Nou Camp.

Victory took the Catalan giants three points clear and seven ahead of third-placed Real Madrid, which hosts Espanyol Sunday.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico made the stronger start and took a deserved early lead through Koke, but two goals in eight minutes from the half hour mark, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez on target, turned the match Barca’s way.

Atletico’s hopes of a comeback took a nosedive when Filipe Luis was sent off just before the break for an ugly lunge on Messi.

Despite being a man short, Atletico started the second half smartly and Claudio Bravo had to be sharp to keep out Antoine Griezmann from close range.

But 25 minutes from time, Diego Godin dived in on Suarez and was giving his marching orders for a second yellow card.

Former Atletico man Arda Turan nearly added a third and the capital side suffered a further blow before the end as Augusto Fernandez was stretchered off with a knee injury.

Home coach Luis Enrique admitted his team had made hard work of its victory, even against nine men.

“It was difficult to get into the game, but it has served to wake us up,” he said.

Simeone said he was “proud” of his team and picked out Suarez, the “complete footballer” as the man who made the difference for Barcelona.

“I have nothing to reproach them for,” said the Argentine in talking about the dismissed Luis and Godin.

Arsenal through in FA Cup

In the English FA Cup, holder Arsenal eased into the last 16 with a 2-1 home win over Burnley, the second goal for the Gunners scored by fit again Alexis Sanchez.

Manchester City, still campaigning on four fronts, thrashed English Premier League basement side Aston Villa 4-0 with young striker Kelechi Iheanoacho scoring a hat-trick.

Tottenham Hotspur also avoided an upset with a comfortable 4-1 win at third flight Colchester, Nacer Chadli scoring a double, while Liverpool and West Ham were goalless in an all EPL clash and must replay.

Friday’s action saw some pressure relieved on Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal as his side won 3-1 at Derby County, with Wayne Rooney scoring a superb opener for the English Premier League giants.