Barcelona holds off Malaga and regains cushion atop La Liga
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.
Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.
Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.
Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.
“We lacked pace at the beginning of the game. It was our third in six days and mentally, it’s difficult,” coach Ernesto Valverde said.
Luis Suarez failed to score on clear chances once again, underlining his poor start to the season, but had his manager’s backing nonetheless.
“I don’t see a problem with him. He looks good to me. What’s important is that he manufactures chances,” Valverde said.
Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.
Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically backfooted it inside the net.
Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.
Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.
Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.
Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.
Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.
Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.
But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.
Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.
“We need to hold our head up high and get to work. I don’t fear being sacked,” Berizzo said.
ON THE REBOUND
Real Betis rebounded from its demoralizing home loss to Valencia by defeating struggling Alaves 2-0.
The result put Betis in sixth place, tied with neighbor Sevilla.
Antonio Sanabria scored early in the first half to lead the hosts to victory a week after losing to Valencia 6-3 at Benito Villamarin Stadium in Seville. Sanabria has scored at least once in each of his last five league games. The Paraguay striker has seven goals in the last seven matches with club and country.
Betis added to the lead with an own goal by Alaves defender Alexis Ruano midway through the second half.
It was the eighth loss for Alaves in nine league matches. It remains second-to-last in the standings with three points, two more than Malaga.
Levante and Getafe played to 1-1 and both teams stayed near the middle of the table.
Levante lost striker Alexander “Nano” Mesa early in the second half because of a ligament injury in his right knee.
Tales Azzoni contributed from Barcelona.