Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola praised opponents Atletico Madrid after seeing his side’s unbeaten La Liga record ended on Sunday.
Guardiola, whose side are now two points ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the table, said: “My team didn’t play well, although you also have to acknowledge the performance of our opponents.
Barca went 2-0 down inside 23 minutes as well as seeing midfielder Seydou Keita limp off to join an already-lengthy list of absentees.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 27th-minute strike gave Barca some hope, but the reigning champions were unable to breach an obdurate Atletico side.
“We’ve lacked the control that helps us play our game” added Guardiola. “We’ve always been a team that ends up creating chances, and today it’s been harder than normal for us due to the great job that Atletico have done.
“They’ve been very well organised and you have to congratulate them on the victory. We weren’t sharp and we were lacking in our play and in our passing.”
Guardiola also refused to blame his side’s defeat on the fact they were without so many players in defence.
Due to injuries and suspension, Guardiola was missing Eric Abidal, Dani Alves, Dmitro Chygrynskiy, Rafa Marquez, Gerard Pique and Yaya Toure, and ended up employing young winger Jeffren at right-back. The early loss of Keita was also a blow and he is set to be out for four weeks with a hamstring problem.
“I don’t want to make excuses because of the injuries, as all teams have absences during the the season. This is happening to us now,” Guardiola said.
The defeat was Barcelona’s first league setback in 22 matches and Guardiola admitted it had come at a bad time.
“The moment of truth has arrived. We will return to playing in the Champions League and we will start to get our injured players back. We are not feeling the pressure from Real Madrid, but the pressure we are putting on ourselves,” he said.
“We are always looking at what we can improve and correct. There are always reasons to look at the defeat and to carry on. We lacked control, but I have no reason to criticize my players,” added the Barcelona coach.
Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores was delighted with the way his side played.
“I’m very pleased with my players. We were united and we stopped the Catalan side from developing their usual play. We were good in attack in the opening 45 minutes, but not so much in the second half,” said Sanchez Flores, who singled out his side’s defence for special praise.
“I wasn’t surprised by their performance. That backline has been playing well in recent matches, but the team hasn’t been winning.
“We’ve not made changes in those positions in order for them to get to know each other better. I think that’s been fundamental for them.”