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Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi on target as Barcelona beat 10-man Villarreal

Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his teammates during the La Liga match between Villarreal and Barcelona at Estadio La Ceramica on December 10, 2017...

Barcelona restored their five-point lead at the top of La Liga on Sunday with a 2-0 win at Villarreal, who had Dani Raba sent off in the second half.

Villarreal were holding on gamely at 0-0, having had the better of things for much of the first half, until Raba’s straight-red dismissal on 60 minutes for a studs-up foul on Sergio Busquets changed the course of the match. Within 12 minutes Luis Suárez had given Barcelona the lead after rounding the keeper for a tap-in following a neat one-two with Paco Alcácer.

Then with seven minutes to go Lionel Messi dribbled between Álvaro González and Victor Ruiz in the penalty box before shooting past Sergio Asenjo to seal the victory, banishing the spectre of a third successive league game without a win.

Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde said in his post-match press conference, as reported by Marca: “The red card happens within the context of the match. I think the player himself has realised that it was disproportionate to tackle like that. I have not seen the replay, but I thought it was a strong challenge. The player himself was worried and didn’t protest.

“I understand he was going to play the ball but lost control. It was a hard tackle and the referee saw it that way. [Villarreal] were very well organised and closed up our corridors of attack. It was a game where we were questioned, and we answered.”

Valverde described Messi and Jordi Alba, who enjoyed a productive partnership, as Barca’s “life insurance policy”.

He added: “Jordi Alba-Messi connections are life insurance for the team. It’s one of our weapons and we use it very well.

“They understand each other well in attack, and the arrival of Jordi Alba is so unexpected by the rival that it helps us a lot.”

Alba said of Messi’s achievements on Barcelona’s website: “He [Messi] is the best in history, a very important player for Barca. He deserves it because as a football player and a person he’s the best.”

Atlético Madrid secured a 1-0 win at Real Betis courtesy of Saúl Ñíguez, so the top of the table looks much as it did before the weekend’s matches, with Valencia in second place, Atlético one point behind in third and Real Madrid a further two points adrift.

In Italy, Milan won their first game under their new manager, Gennaro Gattuso, thanks to two goals from Giacomo Bonaventura against Bologna at the San Siro. Bonaventura scored with a well-struck low shot from the edge of the penalty area and a header from a cross by Suso, either side of an equaliser by Bologna’s Simone Verdi.

Gattuso’s first two games since replacing Vincenzo Montella had resulted in a draw against lowly Benevento and a defeat to the Croatian side Rijeka in the Europa League. The victory on Sunday allowed his side to jump to seventh place thanks to Fiorentina and Chievo both registering 0-0 draws, against Napoli and Roma respectively. Internazionale lead Serie A on 40 points, with Napoli a point behind.

In France, Mario Balotelli scored his sixth goal in six games as Nice beat Nantes 2-1 away from home in Ligue 1. The former Manchester City and Liverpool forward, who has collected 14 goals in 19 appearances this season, got the 75th-minute winner with a first-time effort from 20 yards. Yacine Bammou had given Nantes the lead before Alassane Pléa’s equaliser.

Earlier on Sunday Houssem Aouar scored twice in the last 11 minutes as Lyon came from behind to beat Amiens 2-1. Lyon remain nine points behind the leaders, Paris Saint Germain, with 35 points, with Marseille on the same tally in fourth after a 3-0 home victory against Saint-Etienne.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Mason, for The Guardian on Sunday 10th December 2017 23.20 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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