Suarez, Messi save Barcelona from Alaves setback
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring with his teammates during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Alaves at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi came to the rescue again by scoring late as Barcelona avoided an upset at home and maintained its comfortable lead in the Spanish league on Sunday.
The duo added to their scoring run in a come-from-behind 2-1 win against relegation-wary Alaves at Camp Nou Stadium, keeping the Catalan club 11 points in front of Atletico Madrid, which earlier defeated Las Palmas 3-0 at home.
The result extended Barcelona's unbeaten streak in the league to 21 matches, its best mark since Pep Guardiola's team did the same in the 2009-10 season.
"It was a complicated match," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "They made it difficult by taking the lead. We had to keep pressing until the end to get the victory."
Sitting just outside the relegation zone, Alaves surprisingly went ahead with forward John Guidetti scoring midway through the first half. The visitors threatened constantly on the counterattack until Suarez evened the score with a volley from inside the area in the 72nd minute after a cross by Andre Iniesta.
Messi netted the winner with a well-struck free kick in the 84th, hitting the top corner.
Suarez and Messi have combined to score at least a goal each in seven of Barcelona's last eight matches. Messi is the league's leading scorer with 20 goals, followed by Suarez with 16.
Messi found the net 11 times in his last 12 games, while Suarez scored 12 goals in the last 10.
Philippe Coutinho made his debut as a starter, being replaced in the second half. The newly signed Brazil midfielder had played a few minutes in Barcelona's win over Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.
Alaves was unsuccessful in two key appeals for hand ball during the game.
ATLETICO WINS AGAIN
Atletico Madrid ended its three-match winless streak by beating Las Palmas with second-half goals by Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres and substitute Thomas Partey.
Atletico opened a six-point gap to third-place Valencia, which lost at home to Real Madrid on Saturday. Madrid is fourth, two points behind Valencia with a game in hand.
Atletico was coming off elimination in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals against Sevilla, and it hadn't won since a league game at Eibar two weeks ago.
"It wasn't a very good first half for us but we recovered and created many chances," Griezmann said. "We still have two competitions left and we will keep fighting until the end."
Griezmann broke the deadlock early in the second half after a great pass by Juanfran Torres into open space. The France forward entered the area and flicked the ball over goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola.
Torres scored a superb goal in a breakaway about 10 minutes later, clearing a defender inside the area before shooting into the top corner. Partey closed the scoring from close range two minutes from the end after another counterattack.
Las Palmas, which defeated Valencia at home in the previous round to snap a seven-match winless run, stayed second-to-last in the 20-team standings.
LEGANES WINS AGAIN
Leganes kept its momentum after a shock 2-1 win at Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey by defeating Espanyol 3-2 at home.
Leganes eliminated Madrid in the Copa quarterfinals with the surprise victory at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday, then moved up the league standings on Sunday by taking advantage of a tough afternoon for Espanyol defender Mario Hermoso.
Hermoso scored two own-goals before finally finding the net for his own team late in the game at Butarque Stadium.
The 22-year-old Hermoso scored his first own-goal while trying to intercept a low cross inside the area in the 11th minute, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead. He did it again while trying to clear a cross in the 82nd, allowing Leganes to take a 3-1 advantage.
Hermoso partly made amends by scoring for Espanyol six minutes later as the ball careened off his face and went into the net after being punched away by goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar.
Leganes reached 11th place.
Sixth-placed Sevilla missed a chance to win its fourth straight game by conceding three minutes into second-half injury time in a 1-1 draw against Getafe.
Luis Muriel put the hosts ahead in the 72nd at Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, but Angel Rodriguez equalized despite complaints by Sevilla. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico appeared to be impeded by the opposition while trying to hold on to a long cross into the area. He dropped the ball and Rodriguez found the open net.
Getafe is in ninth place, five points behind Sevilla.