EIBAR (Reuters) - Barcelona got back to winning ways on Saturday after two consecutive draws, earning a 2-0 victory at Eibar thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba to move 10 points clear at the top of the Liga standings.
Suarez latched on to a pass from Lionel Messi to dribble round the home side’s goalkeeper and slot into an empty net in the 16th minute, while Messi hit the woodwork later in the game, as did Eibar’s Fabian Orellana, who was sent off with 25 minutes remaining for a second booking.
Eibar coach Jose Luis Mendilibar was also dismissed later for angry protests against referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez.
Elsewhere in La Liga Valencia produced a quick-fire turnaround to win 2-1 at basement club Malaga and ensure they will end the weekend in third place, while Sevilla warmed up for their Champions League game with Manchester United next week by beating Las Palmas 2-1.
At Eibar Messi’s incisive ball to Suarez put him level with Real Madrid great Michel as the joint-top assist provider in the history of La Liga, with 147 goal-creating passes.
Messi was also involved when Barca finally made the most of their extra man in the 88th minute, running towards goal and into Eibar goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic, allowing Alba to sidefoot the loose ball into the near corner with his weaker right foot.
Alba’s goal, which he celebrated by sucking his thumb in dedication to his new-born son, sealed Barca’s first win in three games after surprise successive draws against Espanyol and Getafe, which had cut their lead at the top of the league from 11 to seven points.
The hard-fought win takes Barca on to 62 points for the season, 10 above nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, who play Athletic Bilbao at home on Sunday. Champions Real visit Real Betis the same day.
Barca’s victory also stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 31 games across two seasons, matching a club record set by Pep Guardiola’s side in April 2011.
“It was very important for us to win today after the two draws,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“They (Eibar) pushed us very hard and played at a very high level. We struggled in the second half and took a long time to get into their area but it was easier once they went a man down.”
Valverde fielded a full-strength starting 11 despite the fact his side face a vital Champions League last-16 first-leg game at Chelsea on Tuesday, and he started veteran midfielder Andres Iniesta over record signing Philippe Coutinho, even though the Brazilian is cup-tied from European games.
Nigerian forward Brown Ideye gave struggling Malaga a surprise lead in the 27th minute against Marcelino’s side and they looked on course for a first league win since Dec. 10 but Francis Coquelin equalised in the 80th minute and captain Dani Parejo netted the winner from the penalty spot in the 85th.
Sevilla warmed up for Wednesday’s clash with Manchester United by winning 2-1 away to relegation-fighting Las Palmas to go fifth, provisionally, in the standings.
Vincenzo Montella’s side marched into a two-goal lead through strikes from Wissam Ben Yedder and Pablo Sarabia either side of halftime.
The home team pulled a goal back through Jonathan Calleri’s converted penalty and Sevilla enjoyed a huge slice of fortune when Alejandro Galvez scored for Las Palmas in injury time but his chipped goal was incorrectly ruled offside.
Deportivo La Coruna suffered a second straight defeat under Clarence Seedorf, the Dutch coach’s side losing 1-0 at Alaves to a scorching strike from former Barcelona loanee Munir El Haddadi. Deportivo remain second-bottom of the standings on 17 points while Alaves move 10 clear of the relegation zone.
Malaga remain rooted to the bottom of the table on 13.
Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Neville Dalton