Luis Suarez and Neymar scored first-half goals as Barcelona did just enough to contain inspired Las Palmas Saturday afternoon, grinding out a 2-1 victory in the Canary Islands.
The win extended Barcelona’s club record unbeaten run to 32 matches and their La Liga winning streak to eight games. It opened a nine-point gap at the top of the league, although both second-place Atletico Madrid and third-place Real Madrid, now 10 points adrift, both play Sunday.
“Today there was no lack of rhythm to the game. At some moments, given we were on the attack, we suffered more on the counter than is normal,”Barca boss Luis Enrique was quoted as saying on Barca’s website. “The up and down nature of the game in the last 10 minutes came because they [Las Palmas] were looking for the equalizer, we had chances to close the game out as well.”
Las Palmas, with only five wins after being promoted to the top flight, remain a point off the bottom of the table and in the relegation zone. Willian Jose scored their only goal on an afternoon when they hardly looked like a bottom-tier club, often taking the match to their famous opponents.
The visitors were without suspended playmaker Sergio Busquets but otherwise fielded a near full-strength side three days ahead of their Champions League match in London against Arsenal. Clearly, Luis Enrique wanted to put the extra distance between his side and the La Liga chasers even as his team were playing their 14th match in seven weeks. Thanks to a crowded Copa del Rey January, Barcelona have played twice a week since the holiday break with few chances to give the regulars a rest.
There were signs that such a relentless pace has taken a bit from the visitors who failed to put their complete stamp on the match and had trouble getting out of second gear. Lionel Messi made the occasional superb pass but was not his usual influential self while Suarez uncharacteristically lacked timing at the head of the attack. He squandered two gilt-edged chances after scoring early.
For the second straight match the Blaugrana took the lead only to surrender an almost immediate equalizer. Suarez scored in just six minutes thanks to a pinpoint pass from Andres Iniesta that allowed Jordi Alba to roam down the left wing before finding the Uruguayan at the far post. It was Suarez’ league-leading 25th goal.
Just four minutes later Jordi Alba was caught flatfooted, keeping Willian Jose onside to a pass from Jonathan Viera that enabled the Canary Islanders to make it 1-1. Willian took advantage of the fact that the assistant’s flag stayed down on a very close call, then turned and slid the ball beyond Claudio Bravo in the 10th minute.
Barcelona regained the lead six minutes before the break with all three of their superstars involved in the match-winning goal. Suarez won a battle on the right byline, then had space to drop a pass for Messi, alone six yards out. Javier Varas made the save on Messi’s point-blank attempt, but he could do nothing as Neymar swept the rebound home.
Suarez missed a 49th minute chance to give Barcelona a two-goal lead when he was set up by Dani Alves, but put his shot directly at Varas when he could have chosen either corner.
Las Palmas might have been even on the hour when Bravo parried a Jonathan drive directly into the path of Willian, but this time the goal-scorer took the ball too wide and hit the side net on the right. They also missed a couple of later chances, failing to keep potentially dangerous shots on goal.
“We can be more or less sharp in front of goal but I’m happy with what I have seen,” Luis Enrique told Barca’s website. “Obviously we can improve things, we have extended our lead [in the league] and we will have to see what the others do.”
CELTA VIGO 3, EIBAR 2
Celta Vigo climbed above Eibar into the top six of the Primera Division with a 3-2 victory at Balaidos.
Eduardo Berizzo’s side were humiliated 6-1 at Barcelona last week and had failed to win a league match since January 16.
But Celta were on top after Iago Aspas pounced on Mauro Dos Santos’ 31st-minute mistake to set up John Guidetti’s neat finish.
Celta doubled their lead when Jonny’s deflected shot gave the defender his first goal in over 100 appearances and Guidetti swept home his second after 69 minutes.
Eibar only sparked into life in the final six minutes when Berjon Perez Saul’s penalty and Takashi Inui’s powerful strike had Celta nerves fluttering.