Xavi says Barcelona 'candidates to win this league' after statement victory at Atletico

Dembele's strike sent Barca three points clear at the top of La Liga after Real Madrid falter against Villarreal

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Barcelona boss Xavi said Sunday's victory at Atletico Madrid showed the Catalans are capable of winning La Liga as Ousmane Dembele's strike took them three points clear at the top of the table.

Capitalising on champions Real Madrid's defeat to Villarreal 24 hours earlier, Barcelona set out to claim a statement victory over Atletico at the Metropolitano.

French forward Dembele finished off a slick team move on 22 minutes but Barca were forced to cling on as Atletico ramped up the pressure, with the superb Ronald Araujo clearing off the line from Antoine Griezmann at the death.

Both teams finished with 10 men after Ferran Torres and Stefan Savic were sent off for brawling with each other on the floor as tempers soured.

"It's a win, but it's not just three points. It gives us morale and confidence for what's left of the league," Xavi told reporters. "We are capable of winning at place as tough as this, suffering, being a family.

"We knew how to suffer and we take three golden points. It's a real statement that we are candidates to win this league."

Missing the suspended Robert Lewandowski, Barcelona once again had to rely on a defence that has conceded just six goals in 16 Liga matches.

Griezmann forced Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a superb save as the pink-haired Frenchman looked to exert his influence over his former side.

Griezmann might have snatched a point but for Araujo's crucial clearance on the line.

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Barcelona only mustered two shots on target and Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said his side deserved more.

"We had a good game, apart from the first 25 minutes," Oblak told DAZN. "We pressed well, we had chances, but lacked a bit of luck to score."

"We started badly, the first 25 minutes we had little confidence, and later we woke up, but at 1-0 down it's already harder."

Defeat means Atletico languish in fifth, 14 points behind leaders Barcelona.

"It's not a worrying situation but it is one that we have to deal with," Simeone told reporters.

"The reality is that we lost. It's true the team had the merit to take away another result, that didn't happen because we didn't put it away. What happens in the boxes is crucial."

Updated: January 09, 2023, 6:43 AM