Barcelona 3-1 Leganes
Barcelona went five points clear at the top of La Liga after a second-half double substitution saw off a brave resistance from Leganes.
Ernesto Valverde brought on Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic with the score at 1-1, and they did the trick, Messi scoring the third as Barca picked up three more big points.
The hosts had a score to settle having suffered a shock defeat to Leganes earlier in the season and they did just that, but Leganes can be proud of their efforts in a hard-fought game.
The pick of the La Liga 2019 results in the run-up to this match was a win for both Madrid giants, who hoped their tiny neighbour, Leganes could do them massive favour. With us odds on a home win at 1.14, this looked like a nailed on the result but Mauricio Pellegrino’s Leganes put up a good fight.
Highlights of the game
Messi, fresh from scoring his 400th La Liga goal last week against Eibar was given a breather for this one, starting on the bench as Valverde shuffled his pack with a couple of tough away games coming up. Philippe Coutinho made a start and he had Barca’s first effort which was blocked by Leganes’ packed defence.
Leganes’ Martin Braithwaite has made a bright impact since his arrival on loan from Middlesbrough, and he made his mark on this game, and on Gerard Pique, with a nasty foul which earned him a yellow card. Then Barca’s Sergio Busquets joined him in the ref’s notebook to make it two yellows in the opening 12 minutes. And Braithwaite was walking on thin ice, taking down Sergi Roberto on the right wing soon after.
The Leganes players continued to harry and hassle their hosts and shots on goal were few an far between in the early stages, Luis Suarez firing one over the bar on 24 minutes, and then two minutes later forcing a good save from Ivan Cuellar with a low shot aimed at the bottom left corner. As the half wore on Barca began to get into their stride and it was Suarez again who came close after being put through on goal by Ousmane Dembele.
Then came the breakthrough, and it was Dembele who opened the scoring with a smart low finish after collecting a pass from Jordi Alba. And the Camp Nou could start to relax a little.
Coutinho almost doubled the lead on the stroke of half time but his shot from the centre of the penalty area flashed inches wide of the right post. And he had the first effort of the second half, shooting high and wide with a half chance. The ex-Liverpool star has been lacking in confidence recently but he was in the thick of the action tonight.
But the next man to hit centre stage was Braithwaite who got on the end of a Youssef En-Nesyri cross to slot home from close range to send the travelling band of Leganes fans wild. The rest of the Camp Nou looked edgy again.
The equaliser gave the visitors some confidence and Oscar Rodriguez had a shot saved, before setting up En-Nesyri who had his effort blocked.
Valverde had seen enough and with 25 minutes left on the clock he brought Messi on to replace Carles Alena. Ivan Rakitic joined him, replacing Arthur in a clear sign of Valverde’s intention to get the points wrapped up quickly.
Within minutes Messi brought another good save from Cuellar with a shot heading for the top left corner but the home fans didn’t have to wait long for Barca to restore their lead as Suarez tapped in from close range.
And who else but Messi made the points safe in injury time, taking a pass from Jordi Alba and shooting high into the net.
Barca’s lead at the top of the table had been trimmed to two points by Atletico Madrid, who won 3-0 away to bottom club Huesca on Saturday but they rose to the challenge after the cavalry arrived and Messi scored his 18th goal of the season.
The Catalans are hot favourites to retain their crown according to La Liga 2019 betting odds and this result has put distance between them and the chasing pack.
This was only Leganes second defeat in seven, but the visitors remain in a relegation battle, just two points above the drop zone.
After a hard fought win there’s a tough week ahead for Barcelona. Valverde’s men head to Seville for the Copa del Rey tie of the round against Pablo Machin’s Sevilla, and then the league leaders are away to Girona in La Liga.
Leganes is out of the Copa, despite beating Real Madrid in their second leg of the last round, and returns to league action at home to Eibar next weekend in a survival six-pointer.
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