BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Stymied in attack and without its top two scorers, Barcelona turned to Pedri to ensure they reach the Spanish league midway point ahead of Real Madrid in the title chase.
Pedri marked his 100th Barcelona appearance at the ripe age of 20 by scoring as a substitute to squeeze past Girona 1-0 on Saturday. The Spain midfielder, who has become a pillar of the post-Lionel Messi rebuild under Xavi, became the second youngest player in club history to reach the century mark in games played.
Girona held the league front-runner in check until Pedri’s fellow substitute, Jordi Alba, found him with a low cross at close range in the 61st. Pedri, who won the Kopa Trophy and the Golden Boy awards in 2021 for the continent’s most promising under-21 player, has scored six times this season, including the only goal in a win over Getafe in the last round.
“This is what coach has asked me to do,” Pedri said about his goals. “I know that (scoring) is one thing that I had to improve upon, and now that I am arriving more to the area the goals are coming.”
Barcelona moved six points clear of Real Madrid before the titleholder hosted third-placed Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Pedri started on the bench as Xavi rotated his lineup ahead of a week with games against Real Betis and Seville. He replaced Ousmane Dembélé in the 25th after the forward felt something go awry following a sprint. He walked off the field and watched the rest of the game from the stands.
Barcelona said Dembélé injured a muscle in his left thigh. It did not give an estimate on how long he will be sidelined.
Dembélé, who suffered a series of injuries in his first seasons with Barcelona, has avoided serious injury since returning from a knee issue in November 2021.
“It is too bad because he is one of our most decisive players,” Xavi said about his speedy winger. Dembélé has eight goals in this campaign and is Barcelona’s best one-on-one attacker in open space.
That left Barcelona without its leading scorers this season. Robert Lewandowski, who leads the league with 13 goals, completed a three-game league suspension. Forward Ferran Torres was also suspended.
With Ansu Fati and Raphinha unable to generate much in attack, Xavi sent on Alba at halftime at left back for Marcos Alonso to help find a breakthrough.
A series of one-touch passes freed Alba down the left flank to square the ball across the goalmouth, where goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga let it slip through his hands and Pedri ensured Barcelona extended its winning streak to eight games across all competitions.
Bojan Krkic reached 100 appearances for Barcelona in 2009 when he was 19 years, 2 months, 24 days old. Messi had been the second youngest to reach the same mark before Pedri beat him. Pedri did so at 20 years, 2 months, 3 days. Messi was 20 years, 8 months, 3 days.
Girona, in 12th place, did nothing in attack until a late push. Ivan Martín was left wide open in front of the goal in the 86th, only to volley a cross high and wide.
Girona coach Michel was sent off in stoppage time with a direct red card for vehemently protesting what he thought was a foul on one of his players.
“We made a huge effort and played a good game,” Michel said. “We only threatened them two or three times, but they only had that one chance that they converted. With what we saw on the field the defeat is not fair.”
Youssef En-Nesyri scored twice to lead Sevilla to a 3-0 win over last-place Elche, which played with 10 men after Pedro Bigas was sent off near the end of the first half.
Cadiz also beat Mallorca 2-0 to move out from the relegation zone.