Atletico Madrid 1 Barcelona 2: Messi leaves it late again to stun host

Barcelona left it late but secured a 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday, with Lionel Messi again decisive at the death.

Barcelona celebrates after scoring the second goal against Atletico Madrid.   -  AFP

Lionel Messi struck another late winner to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 and secure Barcelona a potentially vital triumph in LaLiga's engrossing title race.

Diego Godin had seemingly salvaged Atletico a draw 20 minutes from the end, but Messi broke the host's hearts with a late goal to make Diego Simeone's men rue their missed opportunities and put Barca top of the table ahead of Real Madrid's trip to Villarreal.

Things should have been far better for Atletico, though, as it looked as fluid as it has all season during the first half and carved out a series of strong chances, with Yannick Carrasco, Godin and Antoine Griezmann all going close.

But the home side failed to make the most of its openings and Barca grew into proceedings, threatening Atletico with a few fine chances of its own towards the end of the half.

Atletico's ineffectiveness in front of goal was capitalised on when Rafinha opened the scoring just after the hour mark, though Godin headed the home side back on level terms.

However, just as he did against Leganes last time out in LaLiga, Messi struck at the death to move Barca on to 54 points and back to the summit, where it will stay if Real Madrid fail to beat Villarreal later on Sunday.

Atletico made it clear from the start that it is not giving up on a LaLiga title push and it went close twice inside opening five minutes.

Carrasco was the first to spurn a chance, inexplicably failing to hit the target from six yards out when Saul Niguez's cross landed perfectly for him.

Godin – returning after injuring his hamstring against Barca on February 7 – then prodded over from a similar distance following a corner.

Atletico's high intensity approach prevented Barca from gaining a foothold and Griezmann twice tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen – first from close range and then seeing his fierce 25-yard drive acrobatically tipped over by the German.

Jan Oblak was similarly sharp upon his return from two months out with a dislocated shoulder, tipping a Messi free-kick over before clutching Gerard Pique's goal-bound header on the stroke of half-time.

Barca's improvement continued at the start of the second half and an intricate, flowing move should have given it the lead, but Luis Suarez scuffed wide when played through by Messi.

Atletico then swiftly crafted another chance of its own, though Griezmann slammed an effort straight at Ter Stegen after being fed into the left side of the box, instead of squaring to Kevin Gameiro for an easy finish.

Barca capitalised on that let-off in the 64th minute, as Suarez's charged-down shot fell kindly for Rafinha and the Brazilian tucked a neat finish inside the left-hand post from close range.

Their joy appeared to be short-lived, as Godin glanced a header in from Koke's free-kick delivery in the 70th minute.

But the visiting team had the final say.

Messi collected a cut-back from Suarez and, despite seeing his initial shot blocked, the ball dropped nicely for him once again and he coolly poked past the helpless Oblak to stun Atletico.