Messi and Suarez to the rescue as Barcelona maintain lead in La Liga
Coutinho makes quiet debut as leaders forced to come from behind against Alaves
Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho in action during a quiet debut match against Alaves at Camp Nou. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters.
Lionel Messi scores Barcelona’s winning goal from a free kick against Alaves at Camp Nou. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images.
The visitors were defending well after John Guidetti’s fortuitous opener had put them ahead but they could not hang on as Luis Suarez levelled before Messi curled home a set-piece to secure an unconvincing 2-1 win.
As Barcelona’s forwards failed to fire, Alaves threatened so often on the counter-attack and it was no surprise that their goal came from such a move in the 23rd minute. Guidetti slipped as he took his shot, which deflected off his standing foot to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen and stun the Nou Camp.
Barcelona’s club-record signing Philippe Coutinho made his full debut since joining from Liverpool but he was ineffectual before being replaced. He did come close to equalising only for his strike from the edge of the box to deflect behind for a corner.
Valverde wasted little time after the interval to introduce full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba from the bench as the ineffectual pair of Digne and Nelson Semedo made way.
Barcelona’s attacking talent just could not click and Alaves passed up a good chance to double their lead as Ruben Duarte saw his shot blocked following good work from Guidetti.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde’s final change saw Coutinho come off after a disappointing full debut moments before Suarez was kept out by Pacheco following a superb Messi pass.
But there was nothing he could do to keep out Suarez, who had been relatively quiet, as the Uruguay international turned home Andres Iniesta’s cross at the back-post with 18 minutes remaining
Messi, as he so often does, then took centre-stage — curling home a perfect 84th-minute free-kick which Pacheco could not get near as Barcelona re-established their 11-point lead over Atletico Madrid.
Atletico Madrid eased past Las Palmas to strengthen their grip on second place. The 3-0 win moved Atleti six points clear of Valencia as Diego Simeone’s men remain the closest challengers to runaway leaders Barcelona.
Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres eventually broke down the visitors after the pair had both to come close to opening the scoring in the early stages, with Thomas adding the third late on.
Zinedine Zidane admits Real Madrid’s problems this season have been mental rather than physical after his side hammered Valencia 4-1 on Saturday.
Real have endured a torrid season under Zidane, with the European champions sitting fourth in LaLiga even after their emphatic win at the Mestalla.
“A lot of times it comes down to your mentality, not your fitness. We’re suffering more mentally than physically,” Zidane said.
But Real delivered a statement victory against Valencia as Cristiano Ronaldo scored two penalties before Marcelo and Toni Kroos secured all three points late on.
Santi Mina’s header had given the home side temporary hope during a sustained spell of pressure in the second half.