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Saturday, 24 July 2021

Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao to move back in front of Real Madrid

AP , Wednesday 24 Jun 2020
Barcelona's Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on June 23, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Ivan Rakitic scored a second-half winner as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Tuesday to get back in front of Real Madrid in the Spanish league.

Rakitic broke the deadlock in the 71st minute to move Barcelona three points ahead of Madrid, which on Wednesday hosts relegation-threatened Mallorca. A win will give the lead back to Madrid because it has better tiebreakers.

Rakitic scored less than 10 minutes after coming off the bench, firing a right-foot shot into the corner after an assist by Lionel Messi. It was Rakitic's first goal for Barcelona since March 2019.

Messi, who turns 33 on Wednesday, again wasn't able to score his milestone 700th career goal for club and country. He came close twice with shots that just missed the target late in the second half.

Barcelona was coming off a 0-0 draw at Sevilla, a result that allowed Madrid to take over the lead for the first time since the league resumed after the pandemic break.

Athletic, which has won only one of its three matches after the break, dropped to 10th place.

Atletico thriving

Atletico Madrid extended its good run after the pandemic break with a 1-0 win at Levante.

An own-goal by Bruno Gonzalez in the 15th minute gave Atletico its third straight win and moved Diego Simeone's team back into third place in the standings. Atletico is two points ahead of Sevilla, which had temporarily moved in front after a 2-2 draw at Villarreal on Monday.

Atletico was sixth when the league was interrupted by the coronavirus, but its winning run _ coupled with a series of poor results by its rivals _ allowed the team to quickly get back into the Champions League places.

``Happy for another victory and for these very important three points that take us closer to our goal of qualifying for the Champions League,'' Atletico midfielder Marcos Llorente said.

Gonzalez found his own net while trying to intercept a cross from Llorente to Diego Costa inside the area.

Atletico is six points clear of fifth-place Getafe, which drew 1-1 at Valladolid.

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