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Barcelona defiant despite first league loss

Monday 21 January 2013 10.17 CET
Action from Saturday's dramatic encounter

With Liga leaders FC Barcelona suffering their first top-flight defeat of the campaign, challengers Club Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid CF both managed to edge closer to Tito Vilanova's side by gaining landmark weekend victories.

"This loss had to come sooner or later," admitted Barça attacker Lionel Messi who registered in his tenth consecutive Liga game to give his side the lead against Real Sociedad de Fútbol on Saturday. Pedro Rodríguez's strike in the 25th minute made it two but Real fought back with Gonzalo Castro scoring twice either side of Gerard Piqué's sixth sending off for the Blaugrana before Imanol Agirretxe netted a last-minute winner.

"When you are a player down it always costs you a lot more effort," Messi added after seeing his side lose for only the second time in 121 Liga games in which he found the target. "We were missing [that killer instinct] in front of goal but we have to look to lift ourselves after this," the Argentinian added.

Team-mate Carles Puyol, meanwhile, insisted that the four-time European champions were "not looking for excuses" after their run of 12 straight Liga victories – stretching back to 7 October – came to an end at the Anoeta stadium where the Blaugrana have now lost twice and drawn once in three previous visits. "We could have killed the match off in the first half," he said.

"There are days when the ball hits the post and goes in and other days when that doesn’t happen," the captain continued. "We have to analyse this game and look to get better but there is a long way to go in the season and we are in good shape."

Taking advantage of Barcelona's first league loss since 21 April, second-placed Atlético cut the lead at the top of the standings to eight points thanks to a 2-0 victory at home to Levante UD with Adrián López and Koke finding the target. "We played an intelligent game in which we looked to win spaces while the wings were obviously fundamental to our plan," coach Diego Simeone.

His team maintained their 100% record at home in all competitions his term and set a new club record of going ten consecutive matches at the Vicente Calderón without conceding. "The numbers we are achieving this season are obviously important but we're not stopping to study them," the Argentinian continued. "Taking things on a game by game basis we'll see where we end up."

In José Mourinho’s 150th game in charge of Real Madrid CF, the reigning champions enjoyed a 5-0 win away to Valencia CF with Ángel Di María and Cristiano Ronaldo – now on 299 club career goals – both scoring first half doubles to add to Gonzalo Higuaín's ninth-minute opener.

"What the coach has explained on various occasions both in public and in private is that we are trying to improve," Madrid's assistant coach Aitor Karanka said. "Our team demonstrated tonight what we are capable of and we must continue on this path as it will lead to increased confidence."

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