BARCELONA, Spain – Lionel Messi scored his 700th career goal for the club and the country before Atlético de Madrid returned to draw 2-2 in the Spanish league on Tuesday and face the Barcelona title in hopes of a big hit.
Barcelona's third draw in four rounds left him in second place, one point behind the leader Real Madrid. Madrid host Getafe on Thursday with the opportunity to open a four-point lead with five more games remaining.
Barcelona was two points ahead of Madrid when the league was halted in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
While Madrid won five of five since the restart after a three-month stoppage, Barcelona only won three of six. The pressure is mounting on coach Quique Setién, who took over the team mid-season with the task of rekindling his attacking spirit.
"It's a shame because we keep dropping points and getting further and further away from the title," Setien said. "But we have to keep fighting."
Barcelona struck first in the 11th minute when Atlético striker Diego Costa inadvertently redirected a Messi corner into his own net.
Costa's night worsened soon after, when his penalty was blocked by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. However, Atlético had to retake the shot when a video review determined that the Barcelona goalkeeper had strayed from his line too soon.
Saúl Ñíguez went ahead of Costa on the second attempt and converted to level the score at 19.
Messi restored the host's lead to 56th by coldly scoring a "Panenka" style penalty kick, smoothly beating goalkeeper Jan Oblak. The goal was Messi's 630th goal to go with 70 for his Argentina. It was also his 22nd goal of the season, leading the league.
Atlético responded again through the speed of forward Yannick Carrasco, who was tripped by Nelson Semedo and sent Saúl back to the scene. Ter Stegen put a hand on his penalty but not enough to keep him out.
Atlético de Diego Simeone has remained undefeated in all six games since the competition resumed. He remained in third place, 12 points behind Madrid.
Simeone left striker João Félix on the bench until the second half in favor of fit midfielder Marcos Llorente, who is thriving in support of the attack.
Llorente led the attack from the beginning, but Carrasco with his speed on the left flank turned out to be the visitors' greatest weapon. Twice the Belgian striker burst into the box in a counterattack and was taken down by late tackles by Arturo Vidal and Semedo.
"Carrasco returned from unemployment in better shape, and now he has returned to play at his best level," said Simeone of his striker, who is in his second stage with the club.
Setién chose to leave Messi and Luis Suárez alone in front and add an extra midfielder to young Riqui Puig, keeping forwards Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati on the bench. Puig had one of his best performances for Barcelona, showing off his abilities to pass and control the ball as he related well to Messi and his other teammates.
Barcelona is not outperforming its rivals as it used to, but its main problem is its inability to protect the leaders. He also went ahead twice at Celta Vigo on Saturday only to concede twice to tie 2-2.
"All the games that remain are super important and all the points we drop hurt our chances," said Puig, 20, after his second consecutive start. "The same thing happened the other day, they were able to defend themselves in the games we were winning thanks to our silly mistake or failure to concentrate."
Messi helped put Barcelona ahead when he hit a low, hard corner on the near post, where Costa tried to clear it, but let it hit the inside of his leg. The ball bounced off the grass and left Oblak no chance.
Before his penalty, Messi almost snuggled in a shot from the right side that came within inches of bending in the far corner of the goal.
Barcelona's best chance to get the winner came from Vidal, who fired a shot down the post with 20 minutes to go.