December 9, 2013
Spanish leagueSaturday, November 2, 2013
Barcelona works hard to win 1-0
Barcelona was the better team but had to work hard to beat Espanyol 1-0 for its 11th league win and open up a four-point lead over Atlético Madrid which plays tomorrow. Lionel Messi had a number of close chances, but was again left goalless.
BARCELONA — Alexis Sánchez scored a second-half goal as Barcelona and Lionel Messi struggled past Espanyol 1-0 yesterday to remain top of the Spanish league. Neymar drew two defenders before guiding a pass through both pairs of legs across goal for Sánchez to tap in at the far post for the easy 68th-minute winner.
Barcelona opened up a four-point advantage over Atlético Madrid, which plays Athletic Bilbao tomorrow, and a nine-point lead on Real Madrid. Madrid faces Rayo Vallecano today.
Messi, who has been troubled by an injury, lacked rhythm and made uncharacteristic turnovers at the Camp Nou Stadium to start November goalless. Barcelona next plays against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday.
While Barcelona laboured to another victory, it maintained its impressive start under new coach Gerardo Martino who has led the team to 34 of a possible 36 points. Messi missed time with a right leg injury and by the end of the match he looked like he was either frustrated or feeling the effects of not being 100 percent fit.
Barcelona dominated possession and controlled the tempo from the start with Espanyol goalkeeper Francisco Casilla diving to make a save from Sánchez early on, with the Chilean enjoying some of the hosts’ best opportunities throughout.
Espanyol needed over half an hour to register its first shot on goal, and it was nearly ahead in the 36th but Víctor Valdés got a leg to Víctor Sánchez’s low shot following a smart run onto Thievy Bifouma’s clever touch. Andrés Iniesta forced a save from Casilla with Dani Alves hitting the post in the ensuing scramble as Barcelona nearly went ahead just before halftime.
Casilla was in top form as he got a hand to Messi’s well-guided header in the 54th. Messi then had two opportunities from free kicks but never came closer to scoring his first league goal since September 28.
Neymar nearly found the net moments before setting up Sánchez, and appealed for a foul when Casilla put him to the ground outside the area in the 76th with the empty net beckoning. Espanyol should have tested Valdés in the 85th but Manuel Lanzarote showed poor finishing as he weakly headed over goal.