BARCELONA • Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone conceded his side's title chances may have gone as they were reduced to nine men in losing 1-2 to Primera Liga leaders Barcelona on Saturday.
Victory moved the European champions three points clear of Atletico - having also played a game less - and seven ahead of third-placed Real Madrid, who faced Espanyol yesterday.
"Barcelona continue to be very strong. In their strikers, they have the goals and play that makes the difference," said the Argentinian.
"They are in a very good position, they have three points more than us and a game in hand. There is a long way to go and we will see, but normally they don't falter."
Koke had given Atletico the perfect start at the Camp Nou with his 10th-minute opener a just reward for the visitors' strong start. However, two goals in eight minutes from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez pierced Atletico's usually solid defence to put Barca well on course for a fifth title in seven years.
HE HAS FAITH... IN BARCA
There is a long way to go and we will see, but normally they don't falter.
''DIEGO SIMEONE, Atletico Madrid coach, on champions and leaders Barcelona.
"It's true this is an important week for us, against our closest rival, but there is a long way to go in La Liga," said Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, whose side still have 17 league games to play this term.
Enrique was relieved that Messi escaped serious injury after Atletico defender Filipe Luis made a wild, knee-high challenge on the world player of the year. The coach protested angrily on the touchline shortly before half-time, when he saw the left-back's studs-up tackle against the Argentinian forward.
"Did you see my reaction? Then you can imagine what I was thinking. It shocked me but I am not going to go into detail about it," he told a news conference.
Simeone refused to criticise the Brazilian international.
"No, not in any way," he responded after being asked whether he was annoyed with the player for being sent off.
"It was an incident in the game and the referee interpreted it as he did," added the Argentinian, who also saw defender Diego Godin sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a mistimed tackle on Suarez midway through the second half.
"I am proud of the team that I have. They were impressive and played very well in the first half except for the 10 minutes when Barca pressed us.
"You can win or lose but if we lose, I would prefer to do it this way."
A day earlier, Atletico and Real had their bans on signing new players for the next two transfer windows suspended pending the outcome of appeals to Fifa, the clubs said in separate statements.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS