BARCELONA (Reuters) – Lionel Messi scored a spectacular free kick to give Barcelona a 2-1 win over struggling Alaves on Sunday while Luis Suarez was also on target as the Catalans battled back from a goal down at halftime to stay 11 points clear at the top of La Liga.
Alaves were the only team to win at the Nou Camp in the league last season and looked set to overshadow Philippe Coutinho’s first start for Barca when Sweden striker John Guidetti gave them a shock lead in the 23rd minute, falling over as he lashed the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Suarez finally levelled for the Catalans in the 72nd minute, scoring for the eighth league game in a row after some impressive saves from visiting goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco had kept Barca at bay, while Messi’s sumptuous free kick in the 84th gave them a seventh consecutive league win.
Atletico Madrid overcame the absence of injured striker Diego Costa to beat Las Palmas 3-0 while Sevilla were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Getafe due to a controversial equaliser in injury time.
Barca top the standings with 57 points, 11 above nearest challengers Atletico and 19 ahead of champions Real Madrid, who roared back from their miserable start to 2018 with an impressive 4-1 win at third-placed Valencia on Saturday.
“If you don’t concentrate you don’t win and sometimes looking at the rival team’s position in the league does you no good,” Suarez told reporters.
“In the second half we understood what was at stake and we managed to get the three points.”
LATE PENALTY DENIED
Alaves went into the game two points and two places above the relegation zone but could have doubled their lead in the second half when a cross from Guidetti made its way to Ruben Duarte, whose shot was blocked by the body of Gerard Pique.
Suarez’s strike, which bounced off Pique on its way in but was awarded to the Uruguayan, preserved his side’s status as the only undefeated team in Europe’s top five leagues before Messi grabbed all three points, although Alaves were denied a late penalty when the ball struck the hand of Barca’s Samuel Umtiti.
“I asked Umtiti but apart from cutting his hand off I don’t know what else he could have done,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said.
“For me it’s accidental but every fan will see it from their team’s point of view. Sometimes the ball goes in and it’s not given as a goal, other times this happens.”
Atletico’s confidence had been knocked down a peg by their King’s Cup elimination to Sevilla but they saw off 19th-placed Las Palmas with strikes from Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres and Thomas Partey in the second half.
The visiting side deployed a high defensive line and paid the price for their risky approach when Griezmann latched on to a pass from Juanfran to race unchallenged towards goal and score in the 61st minute.
Griezmann was the catalyst for the second goal, intercepting a pass to help work the ball towards Torres, while Partey nudged a Yannick Carrasco pass into an empty net in the 88th.
Sevilla looked set to beat Getafe when Luis Muriel slid in to give them the lead in the 72nd minute but the visitors levelled in the 93rd when Angel Rodriguez lashed into an empty net after Juan Cala crashed into goalkeeper Sergio Rico.
Leganes beat Espanyol 3-2 at home with the help of two own goals from Mario Hermoso, who completed an unwanted hat-trick by scoring a late consolation strike for his side.