Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi on target as Barcelona pads La Liga lead

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi on target as Barcelona pads La Liga lead
From ESPN - December 10, 2017

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi broke down a stubborn Villarreal to send Barcelona five points clear at the top of La Liga despite an under-par display in a 2-0 victory at Estadio de la Ceramica. Only after the hosts had midfielder Daniel Raba sent off for an ugly tackle on Sergio Busquets on the hour mark did the Catalans start creating the chances they needed to win the game.


Another clean sheet and a solid defensive performance, despite the absences of Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano, as Barcelona continue to gear up for the Clasico by stringing together good results to keep a cushion between them and the chasing pack.


At times during the first half it was difficult to believe this was the same team that has terrorised defences over the past decade. Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona are doing well domestically and in Europe, but sometimes they lack invention and ideas. If Raba had not earned his red card, they might never have worn down the hosts to grind out a result.

Manager rating out of 10

7 -- Valverde brought on Paco Alcacer and it helped open up the game. The coach's persistent faith in Suarez also paid off, with the striker netting the opener. Denis Suarez got a start, too, after good recent performances, showing players can earn their place in the team, even though the playmaker did not deliver on this occasion.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 8 -- Although Jasper Cillessen performed well midweek, the German stopper showed why he is the team's undisputed No. 1 with a phenomenal save from Roberto Soriano in the first half.

DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- The midfielder seems to be Valverde's go-to right-back choice when Barcelona have tough opponents, which is as much a vote of no-confidence in Aleix Vidal and Nelson Semedo as it is belief in Roberto. This was a solid defensive performance but lacked sparkle moving forward.

DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- The defender nearly enjoyed the perfect start to the game when his bullet header came back off the angle between post and crossbar. Sturdy against the threat of Cedric Bakambu.

DF Thomas Vermaelen, 7 -- The Belgium international performed at a high level again and was untroubled, proving to Valverde he can be relied upon in the Clasico and Javier Mascherano does not need to be rushed back.


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