Messi rested as Barca ease to victory


Barcelona moved within one victory of retaining their LaLiga title with a 2-0 win over Alaves. Goals from Carles Alena and Luis Suarez, from the penalty spot, secured a routine result and the championship could even be theirs as soon as Wednesday should second-placed Atletico Madrid lose to Valencia. But it still remains a question of when and not if they will be crowned champions and next week’s Champions League semi-final against Liverpool has assumed priority. For that reason Ernesto Valverde decided to leave Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba on the bench ahead of next week’s first leg at home and while that stunted Barcelona, they were rarely in danger of being tested. They enjoyed 82 per cent of possession in the first half but produced little from it. Suarez had a couple of shots saved by goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco, with Philippe Coutinho having an effort blocked after following up from one of those saves in the sixth minute. That was about the best the visitors could manage in the first 45 minutes as Alaves worked hard to prevent themselves being opened up, happy to rely on counter-attacks, and although Coutinho saw a lot of the ball he could not emulate Messi’s creativity. Alaves were dealt a blow when they lost Diego Rolan on the stroke of half-time, with Darko Brasanac replacing him for the start of the second half. Within 10 minutes of the restart Suarez dummied a pass from Sergi Roberto to allow Alena to collect the ball on the penalty spot and fire home the opening goal. Confusing scenes followed moments later when Gerard Pique thought he had forced home from close range but team-mate Samuel Umtiti was flagged offside on the goal line – only for the referee to be urged by VAR to consult a replay, after which he went back to award a handball against Tomas Pina. Suarez did the rest and with the game won Ernesto Valverde sent on Messi for the final half-hour. He soon forced Pacheco into a save after a trademark weaving run but Messi – and Barcelona – played well within themselves in the closing stages knowing their greatest challenge awaits in eight days’ time. Topics Alaves, Barcelona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Spanish La Liga, Alaves, Barcelona Hasenhuttl wary of the drop as Saints let lead slip after Long’s record strike I never tell my team to foul the opposition – Guardiola hits back at Solskjaer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits United are not at City and Liverpool’s level yet Long scores fastest Premier League goal, but Saints see victory slip from grasp West Ham fail in their bid to bring forward Southampton clash Monday’s big transfer rumours: First major casualty of Manchester United rebuild revealed Ranked! The 50 best players in the Premier League this season Quiz! Can you name the 35 current Premier League players who made their debut in the competition 10+ years ago? Andy Mitten column: Why the Solskjaer euphoria died – and what must happen to get it back Why Bolton are the hardest club to support in English football
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