Diego Simeone happy with Atletico Madrid despite loss at Barcelona

BARCELONA -- Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said he was proud of his team's performance as they were beaten 2-1 at Barcelona after having two players sent off.

Atletico stunned the Camp Nou when Koke fired the visitors ahead on just 10 minutes, but goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez turned the game around by half-time.

Red cards for Filipe Luis and Diego Godin either side of the break meant Atletico finished the game with nine men, but they were in with a chance of equalising late on when goalkeeper Jan Oblak joined his teammates in attack for an 89th-minute free kick.

The Colchoneros coach told his postmatch news conference that he was impressed with how his team had played, and lamented a missed chance by Antoine Griezmann early in the second half when the visitors' 10 men were on top.

"I have the feeling I am very proud of the team I have," Simeone said. "Impressive. A very good first half, apart from the 10 minutes when Barca scored. In the second half, with 10 players, we took advantage of the spaces, Griezmann had his chance. In football you can win or lose but I will be proud of my team for sure."

The result means Barca go three points clear of Atletico in the La Liga table, while third-placed Real Madrid are a further four points back, and Simeone said the Catalans were now big favourites to retain their title.

"I see Barcelona still very strong -- they still have these forwards who can decide games," he said. "They look in control, three points ahead of us, with one game less played. There is a long way to go, so we will see. But normally they do not slip up often."

Simeone did not respond to repeated questioning about the decision making of referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco but said he would not be reprimanding either Filipe Luis or Godin for their recklessness.

"I am not going to comment on this," he said. "The ref is there for the two teams. [The Filipe Luis red card] was a situation in the game. The referee saw it the way he saw it. I have nothing to say to either of my two players."

The former Atletico player was happier to expand on how well his team had played when going ahead early and looking in control of the game through the opening stages.

"Until minute 25 or so, we pressed well, had good possession of the ball, were playing well," Simeone said. "In the 4-4-2, [Yannick] Carrasco allowed us stretch the game with Griezmann -- we seemed to be in control of the game. Then we had five or 10 minutes when Barca had two chances, and scored two goals. They are very good."

Simeone praised the contribution from some of his younger players, who were not part of the squad that won the title two years back, and kept battling even when they seemed beaten.

"This year's team has very young players, improving," he said. "Saul [Niguez] was tremendous, Carrasco very good. Given the difficulties of the game, they showed personality. In the last play of the game we were still dangerous. We were never out of the game. We used our heads. We are always positive, I am taking away a lot of positive things, although the defeat is painful."

January signing Augusto Fernandez was stretchered off with what looked a serious knee injury, although Simeone said he was hopeful the ex-Celta Vigo midfielder would not be sidelined for too long.

"We hope it is something small," he said. "Today or tomorrow the doctors will examine him. We will know then. We hope he is back as long as possible."