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Atlético in pole position after beating Barça, Madrid slip

Atlético in pole position after beating Barça, Madrid slip
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BARCELONA, Spain: Atlético Madrid strengthened its status as the early front-runner in the Spanish league title race on Saturday after beating Barcelona and watching Real Madrid fall further behind.

Under coach Diego Simeone, Atlético knew what it was like to beat Barcelona in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, but it had been denied a victory over Lionel Messi's side in the domestic league in 20 consecutive attempts.

Its first win over Barcelona in the competition since 2010 left it level on points with league leader Real Sociedad before the Basque Country club visits Cádiz on Sunday.

Ronald Koeman's Barcelona was left languishing in 10th place at nine points back. Both Atlético and Barcelona have games in hand due to their late start to the season after playing in the Champions League quarterfinals in August.

"It's true that we hadn't beaten them in years, although we had been close. This is the payoff of working toward this victory," Simeone said, while not wavering from his mantra of going ahead "game by game."

"We always keep the same philosophy both in the good times and the bad: our focus is on the next match," he said.

The long-awaited win came after a Madrid side debilitated by injuries and Coronavirus infections dropped points for the second consecutive round when it drew 1-1 at Villarreal.

Adding to Barcelona's injury problems, defense leader Gerard Pique suffered what his club called a right-knee sprain early in the second half when Ángel Correa fell onto his leg and made it buckle inwards.

Pique immediately called for help. He walked gingerly off on his own power, but he seemed to be in tears.

Barcelona also lost Sergi Roberto to an apparent right-thigh injury in the final minutes. Barcelona was already without Ansu Fati for four months after he needed surgery on his left knee last week.

Two superb touches by Yannick Carrasco proved to be the key to Atlético breaking its decade of frustration against Barça.

After going close through Saúl Ñíguez and Marcos Llorente, the game at the Wanda Metropolitano tipped in the hosts' favor when Correa pounced on a bad pass by Pique and lobbed the ball forward for Carrasco breaking down the left flank.

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