Messi on target again as Barca overcome Girona
GIRONA: An insatiable Lionel Messi scored for the eighth game in a row in all competitions as La Liga champions Barcelona saw off a gutsy Girona side 2-0 in a Catalan derby on Sunday to go five points clear at the top of the standings.
Portuguese fullback Nelson Semedo struck with his weaker left foot to send Barca into the lead in the ninth minute of the game, which was played on a rain-swept afternoon at Girona's Montilivi stadium after La Liga's ambitious plan to stage it in Miami fell through.
Girona missed a double chance to equalise shortly before the break, with Barca defender Gerard Pique clearing a shot off the line, and the home side's striker Cristhian Stuani was thwarted by the feet of German keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen early in the second period.
Girona, who had held Barca to a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp earlier in the season, had defender Bernardo Espinosa sent off in the 51st minute for a second booking.
Even with 10 men, they continued to cause problems for Barca's backline, with Ter Stegen again denying Stuani, who later appealed for a penalty after going down from a challenge from Jordi Alba.
Barca struck a fatal blow midway through the second half with a quick counter-attack which led to La Liga's top scorer Messi lofting the ball over keeper Bono to net his 19th league goal of the season, taking Barca on to 49 points after 21 games, five points ahead of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid.
Messi, who was rested for Barca's 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in a Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, has now scored at every La Liga ground he has played at, with the Argentine still to visit Huesca later in the campaign.
"I think they caused us more problems with 10 players than they did with 11; they are a great side, one of the most attractive teams in the league and this win will really boost our confidence," said Barca's Alba.
"This was a tight game which we won thanks to small details, especially the quality we have in attack. Messi never lets us down."
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said his side were worthy winners, even though they had to withstand some hairy moments.
"We can't deny that for a few minutes after the sending-off they put us under a lot of pressure but it was only a matter of time before we scored again," he said.
"You are always worried in a game like this as you know the other team will create chances so you need to finish the game off. In the end we made some more chances of our own and saw the game out."