Sergino Dest's Barcelona moved to within one point of LaLiga lead with a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid thanks to Ousmane Dembele's goal in stoppage time.
Dest started and played 87 minutes for Barca, which was in fifth place, 13 points behind first-place Atletico at Christmas. Barca has a six-game winning streak and is unbeaten in its last 19 LaLiga games (16 wins and three ties).
“The team is capable of winning the matches," said Barca coach Ronald Koeman. "It has also shown today that you have to be at your level, be effective, have freshness. Freshness was lacking, it may be because of the national team stoppage.”
The goal was the fifth of the season for Dembele, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 on an initial transfer fee of 105 million euros, then the second highest fee ever paid for a player. But the 23-year-old forward scored just 12 league goals in his first three seasons and developed a reputation as a player with discipline issues and injury problems.
His form this season has improved, and he is a big reason for Barca's surge.
“Of course, he is an important player," said Koeman. "He has shown today with his game and especially with his goal. Ousmane’s career this season is very good, physically he has improved a lot, it is the key to his consistency."
Next up for Barca: The Spanish Clasico at Real Madrid on Saturday. The defending champion is third, two points behind Barcelona.
MONDAY: Belgium (Pro League) Mark McKenzie, Genk, 90 minutes (3-2 at Leuven) Matt Miazga, Anderlecht, 90 minutes (4-1 at Antwerp)
England (Championship) Cameron Carter-Vickers, Bournemouth, 90 minutes (2-0 at Blackburn Rovers) Daryl Dike, Barnsley, 90 minutes, 2 goals (2-1 at Luton Town) Charlie Kelman, QPR, sub-10 minutes (1-2 at Nott. Forest)
Italy (Serie B) Andrija Novakovich, Frosinone, 57 minutes (0-1 at Salernitana)