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19th-Feb-2018

Barcelona grind out victory at Eibar before Chelsea trip

By AFP, Madrid


Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba were on target as Barcelona saw off Eibar 2-0 on Saturday to continue their unbeaten record in La Liga and extend their lead at the top of the table.
Lionel Messi had a hand in both goals against an Eibar side who finished the match at tiny Ipurua with 10 men after the second-half sending-off of Fabian Orellana.
It was not a comfortable afternoon for Ernesto Valverde's men in the rain in the Basque Country, but Barca are still unbeaten 24 games into the league campaign, and have now gone 31 La Liga matches undefeated in total to match their record run under Pep Guardiola in 2010/11.
They are 10 points clear at the top, although Atletico Madrid can trim that lead when they host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Barcelona will now turn their thoughts to the Champions League last 16, first leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, and Valverde said Eibar were ideal opponents ahead of that match.
"Eibar always put you under a lot of pressure, so it was a good test. We really suffered, because they are in great form," said Valverde.
"It was a very difficult match just as we expected, and we will try and make sure it helps us, although the Champions League is another competition altogether."
Valverde sent out a strong team, choosing to start Andres Iniesta and leave Philippe Coutinho on the bench, despite the Brazilian being ineligible for the Champions League. Coutinho replaced Iniesta for the final half-hour.
"Last week Coutinho started, and this week it was Iniesta," Valverde added. "It is true that we have another match on Tuesday, but for me the important thing was today (Saturday)."
Barca went ahead in the 16th minute, Messi's superb pass releasing Suarez, who rounded goalkeeper Marco Dmitrovic to score.
The visitors had a couple of let-offs in the first half, with Sergio Busquets lucky not to concede a penalty as he pulled back Kike Garcia in the box. Orellana then hit the bar with a fine strike.
However, the Chilean was sent off midway through the second half and Barca took advantage of the extra man in the 88th minute. Messi, who hit the post in the first half, was denied by Dmitrovic, but the ball fell for Alba to score.Valencia consolidated their grip on third place, coming from behind to win 2-1 at bottom side Malaga with a late Dani Parejo penalty.
Nigerian Brown Ideye had put the home team ahead, but French midfielder Francis Coquelin headed Valencia level 10 minutes from time with his first La Liga goal since moving from Arsenal.
Valencia are four points clear of fourth-placed Real Madrid but have played two games more than Zinedine Zidane's side, who are at Betis on Sunday.
Sevilla warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Manchester United by winning 2-1 at struggling Las Palmas, aided by a controversial late offside call.
Goals from Wissam Ben Yedder and Pablo Sarabia had Sevilla in control in Gran Canaria, before Jonathan Calleri pulled one back for Las Palmas with a penalty.
And the islanders were denied a 93rd-minute equaliser when an extremely tight offside call went against them -- Alejandro Galvez looked to be level with the last defender before putting the ball in the net.
Having experienced some indifferent form following the appointment of Italian Vincenzo Montella as coach in December, Sevilla have now claimed back-to-back league victories since progressing to the Copa del Rey final, and are fifth.
"When you win games you rest and recover better. Now the only thing on our minds is Manchester," said Montella.
Also on Saturday, Deportivo La Coruna suffered a second defeat in as many games since the appointment as coach of former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf, as they lost 1-0 at Alaves to remain second-bottom.
On-loan Barcelona forward Munir El Haddadi scored the winner with a superb strike, with Alaves continuing their revival under Abelardo.