Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola insisted yesterday that he will not press the panic button despite the Spanish giants suffering back-to-back league defeats.
Less than a month ago, Barcelona were coasting to the La Liga title with a healthy 12-point lead over bitter rivals Real Madrid, thanks to a run of 22 championship games without defeat.
But on Sunday, Barcelona twice surrendered the lead to lose 4-3 to Atletico Madrid, a heartbreaking setback coming on the back of a shock defeat against relegation-haunted Espanyol and a 1-1 Champions League draw at Lyon.
“We have had a big advantage and Real Madrid have cut it back by eight points in three weeks. But we will continue forward,” said Guardiola whose team’s lead at the top is now just four points.
“We lost a game which was up and down, very exciting and I have to give credit to Atletico but we will now continue as before,” he said.
“Atletico play a very direct style of football and it caused problems. It was a game with plenty of chances, typical of an Atletico Madrid versus Barcelona game,” Guardiola said.
Thierry Henry put Barcelona ahead with a fine strike from 25m after 18 minutes before Lionel Messi, on the half-hour mark, produced a trademark dribble before finishing in style to make it 2-0.
Diego Forlan brought Atletico back into the match with a spectacular 30m drive before Sergio “Kun” Aguero got the first of his brace after 56 minutes to level at 2-2.
Barcelona re-established their lead when Eidur Gudjohnsen unselfishly played in Henry for his second in the 73rd minute.
But Atletico were not finished and Forlan again scored, this time from the penalty spot in the 80th minute, before Argentine striker Aguero struck in the 89th minute to win the match.
Atletico coach Abel Resino singled out his players’ battling qualities.
“Against a good side we had a first half where we maintained our composure despite the onslaught. Each day I feel as though we are getting better and the team has shown character,” he said.
“We never eased off despite being 2-0 down. Aguero was sensational and his attitude has been contagious,” Resino said.
Meanwhile, the pressure is growing on Valencia coach Unai Emery as his side followed their midweek UEFA Cup elimination with a 2-1 home defeat by Valladolid.
After a bright start to the season, Valencia have tumbled to sixth and have now gone more than a month without a win.
Villarreal, in fourth, failed to capitalize on Valencia’s problems and build up a five-point gap over the teams below them as they could only draw 2-2 at home against Real Betis after taking a two-goal lead.
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