Suarez, Messi maintain Barca's La Liga lead

Monday, December 11, 2017

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Madrid , Spain (AFP) — Barcelona restored their lead at the top of La Liga to five points as Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi struck in the final 20 minutes to edge out 10-man Villarreal 2-0 yesterday.

Daniel Raba's red card on the hour mark for a wild lunge on Sergio Busquets handed Barca the initiative.

And their pressure told when Suarez rounded off a fine team move before Messi blasted home a second to get the Catalans back to winning ways, after successive draws with Valencia and Celta Vigo.

“In the second half after the sending-off we had more chances to win the game,” Suarez told Movistar TV.

“They played a very good game tactically and we weren't precise enough, but in the second half we came out with a different mentality to take the three points.”

Valencia remain Barca's closest challengers five points back, but Atletico Madrid also maintained their title charge with a 1-0 win at Real Betis to stay six points off the top.

Real Madrid are eight points behind in fourth and Barca will have the chance to go into El Clasico away at Real in two weeks' time, with an 11-point lead over their rivals.

Barca host Deportivo la Coruna next weekend, whilst Madrid are in action at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

“I will be calm when the season is over and we have won everything,” said coach Ernesto Valverde of Barca's commanding lead.

“There is a long way to go, but winning at places like this is important.”

Indeed, Barca had drawn on their previous two La Liga visits to the Ceramic Stadium, but nearly had the perfect start when Gerard Pique's header came off the bar just four minutes in.

However, Barca's dominance of possession was largely stale before the break as Villarreal posed the greater threat on the counter-attack.

Nicola Sansone had the hosts' best effort that forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a stunning, one-handed stop high to his left.

Messi orchestrated the visitors' attacking threat after the break as he constantly freed Jordi Alba down Barca's left.

Paco Alcacer was denied by Sergio Asenjo from Alba's low cross before the left-back teed up Messi for a cushioned effort that drifted inches wide.

Villarreal had to survive the final half-hour a man light when Raba was dismissed for connecting with his studs on Busquets' ankle as the Spanish international cleared.

Another Alba cross was turned onto the post by Suarez on the stretch.

However, the Uruguayan finally broke Villarreal's resistance after exchanging a neat one-two with Alcacer to round Asenjo and net his seventh goal of the season.

And Messi secured all three points seven minutes from time as he was played in by Busquets to smash past the helpless Asenjo.

Earlier, Atletico bounced back from the disappointment of being dumped out of the Champions League in midweek to keep their title challenge afloat at Betis.

The hosts dominated possession throughout but were made to pay for their lack of cutting edge, as well as some fine goalkeeping by Jan Oblak.




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