Jordi Alba

Barcelona recap
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Messi, Barcelona back with a bang

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It was a big day for Catalonia, as Barcelona took its next step toward another La Liga title and Espanyol crept closer to safety.

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Barca opened up a five-point lead on Real Madrid with a win at Mallorca before the second-place side tangles with Eibar on Sunday.

Mallorca 0-4 Barcelona

Lionel Messi scored and assisted two others while Jordi Alba had a goal and an assist as Barcelona cruised past Mallorca at the Son Moix.

Barca moves onto 61 points, while Mallorca’s 25 remain a point back of safety.

It didn’t take long for Barca to get going, with Alba spotting Arturo Vidal for a second-minute opener.

Mallorca manufactured some shots, but Barcelona expanded its lead to 2-0 when Messi headed a loose ball to Martin Braithwaite before halftime.

The assists were Messi’s 17th and 18th, the goal his 25th in 32 matches across all competitions.

Celta Vigo 0-1 Villarreal

Longtime Villarreal midfielder Manu Trigueros scored a somewhat rare goal in second half stoppage to move Villarreal into eighth place, four points out of the top six.

Trigueros’ 24th career goal came in his 316th appearance for El Submarino Amarillo.

Celta remains just one point above the bottom three and three points clear of 20th place in a shocking season. The club’s been in La Liga since 2013 and finished top half in three-straight seasons between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Espanyol 2-0 Alaves

Fernando Pacheco’s 19th-minute handball saw him sent off for the visitors, and Espanyol scored in first half stoppage and just after the break to get a huge three points.

Espanyol remains 20th with 23 points but is just three points from safety. They needed the win with a tough run of fixtures ahead to close out the season.

Alaves has 32 points, seven points clear of the bottom three with 10 matches to play.

Leganes 1-2 Real Valladolid

Goals from Enes Unal and Ruben Alcaraz early in each half moved Valladolid seven points from the bottom three.

Oscar Rodriguez struck late to give the hosts some hope, but it wasn’t met by another goal and Leganes remains 19th.

Liverpool suffers harsh 3-0 loss in Barcelona

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Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez…

Well, if Liverpool supporters knew the recap was going to start like that, they might not have tuned into the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal against Barcelona on Wednesday.

Messi scored twice, including a breathtaking free kick, after Luis Suarez netted early in a 3-0 win over the Reds at the Camp Nou.

Liverpool was quite good in the second half, and the score line flattered to deceive the hosts, but there is no doubting the Reds are behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool was hit with an injury and then with a deficit, as Naby Keita pulled up with a groin injury before Barcelona took the lead.

Jordi Alba’s curling pass from the left was deftly finished by Suarez, the ex-Liverpool man cutting between Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk to flash the ball inside the near post as Alisson Becker flailed to find only air.

A fantastic piece of work from Jordan Henderson nearly cued up an equalizer, but Sadio Mane‘s effort to snap a first touch shot past Ter Stegen sailed over the bar.

The first quality shot of the second half came via Mohamed Salah, who drilled a low shot through traffic which was pawed out for a corner kick.

And the Reds were certainly the better money to score in the second half, which will mean very little considering Barca netted next.

Barcelona made it 2-0 through Messi, who started a dribble through the middle that popped into the path of Suarez. The Uruguayan used his thigh to redirect the ball off the cross bar, and Messi was quicker than Van Dijk at reacting to the rebound.

If that goal was easy, then this one, well, just watch it.

That’s scintillating stuff from the best player in the world, who may just be the actual GOAT.

Liverpool nearly climbed back into it with a pivotal away goal, but the Blaugranas goal line clearance onto the path of Salah was clanked off the post.

Barcelona’s Suarez puts Liverpool down at half (video)

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Luis Suarez has Barcelona up 1-0 on Liverpool at the Camp Nou after a classy finish early in the sides’ UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool was hit with an injury and then with a deficit, as Naby Keita pulled up with a groin injury before Barcelona took the lead.

Jordi Alba’s curling pass from the left was deftly finished by Suarez, the ex-Liverpool man flashing the ball inside the near post as Alisson Becker flailed to find only air.

A fantastic piece of work from Jordan Henderson nearly cued up an equalizer, but Sadio Mane‘s effort to snap a first touch shot past Ter Stegen sailed over the bar.

Here’s Suarez’s goal:

La Liga: Barcelona draws nearer to title, Celta Vigo runs from relegation

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Barcelona remained nine points clear at the top of the La Liga table with five matches remaining thanks to a 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad.

Clement Lenglet beat his mark Mikel Merino in the air, scoring a header off a corner just before halftime to put Barcelona up, and after Real Sociedad leveled things up just after the hour mark, Jordi Alba was on hand to restore the lead with a right-footed blast low past Geronimo Rulli who reacted late on the shot through traffic.

Down the other end of the table, Celta Vigo earned a critical win in the relegation battle, knocking off Girona 2-1 on a 69th minute winner by former Southampton attacker Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international worked a tiny bit of space before delivering a fabulous curler that tucked in the far corner. That proved the difference after Iago Aspas and Portu had cancelled each other out on either side of the break. The win allowed Celta to rise up to 14th, three points above the drop with a crowded group below them.

Atletico Madrid extended its lead in second place with a 1-0 win over Eibar, needing an 85th minute breakaway goal by Thomas Lemar to seal the deal. That pushed them seven points ahead of Real Madrid, with Los Blancos still set to play on Sunday. It also saw Atletico keep pace with Barcelona, although it would take a massive collapse down the stretch by the leaders for Atletico to have a shot at the title.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano drew nearer to relegation with a 0-0 draw against Huesca at home, leaving them four points back of 18th placed Real Valladolid and five shy of safety. Rayo could only muster three shots on target of the 16 efforts they ripped off, failing to create many truly big chances.

Left alone: Alba proving perfect sidekick for Lionel Messi

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BARCELONA, Spain — With Lionel Messi wowing fans game after game, it’s easy to overlook Jordi Alba, the player who often puts him in position to score so many impressive goals.

Alba has become the indispensable sidekick for Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer.

“Leo and Jordi understand one another perfectly,” coach Ernesto Valverde said after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Celta Vigo when Alba helped set up both of Barcelona’s goals.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Alba first passed for Messi to shoot, with a rebound of a save falling to Ousmane Dembele to finish off. Alba then assisted Messi for his league-leading 15th goal of the season.

“Their relationship clicks,” Valverde said. “Sometimes rivals try to block their passing angles, but Jordi has a great sense of timing. And even though adversaries know it’s coming, it continues to work.”

Alba has been running up and down Barcelona’s left flank for seven seasons now, but his importance to his team’s attack used to be secondary to the sparkling play of former stars Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

Neymar’s exit two summers ago marked a turning point for Alba. With the Brazil forward no longer soaking up all the weight of the attack on Barcelona’s left side, Alba was free to fully exploit his speed and passing ability.

As Alba told Spanish sports daily Sport in 2017, “now I have the entire left side to myself, and that is much better.”

Messi often starts his attacks from the right or center of the field to have his preferred left boot set to shoot. That leaves Alba in an ideal position to stretch the defense with carefully timed bursts of speed to break into the area behind the opposition’s backline, often after exchanging passes with Messi.

The 29-year-old Alba has developed the knack of knowing where Messi will dart to in the box, often behind a dummy run by Luis Suarez, where he can receive Alba’s passes in a scoring position.

“They are very quick moves against defenses that really close down the open spaces,” Alba said after Saturday’s strong performance. “But Messi always waits for the opportune moment to find space, and I connect with him.”

Alba has done his part in ensuring Barcelona went into the Spanish league’s winter break with a three-point lead atop the standings.

“Most of the passes that I give Messi end up in goal,” Alba said. “Leo never misses.”

ADIOS ATLETICO?

Second-placed Atletico Madrid heads toward the winter transfer window with big questions about two of its top young players: France defender Lucas Hernandez and midfielder Thomas Partey.

Hernandez has been linked to interest by Bayern Munich in triggering the 80 million euro ($91 million) buyout clause that would free him from his contract.

While Atletico has denied that Hernandez wants to leave, coach Diego Simeone appears to accept that he could lose the 22-year-old defender.

“Lucas knows what I told him. I love him a lot, we have watched him grow up,” Simeone said after Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Espanyol. “Let him decide what he thinks is best and I will support him.”

Thomas, who can play either as a holding midfielder or further up in the formation, has also made it publicly known that he wants to play more.

“I have a deep affection for Atletico and I am grateful for all that it has done, as well as for the fans, but sometimes I feel unhappy at Atletico,” Thomas said Saturday.

LLORENTE’S MOMENT

Ignored by previous managers, 23-year-old Marcos Llorente is playing well enough to threaten Casemiro’s spot in the starting 11 as Real Madrid’s holding midfielder.

Llorente has started nine matches since Santiago Solari took over from the fired Julen Lopetegui two months ago, benefiting from Casemiro twisting an ankle.

Llorente scored his first goal for Madrid on Saturday when he struck a powerful shot from outside the area to help beat Al Ain 4-1 in Abu Dhabi. Madrid won its third straight Club World Cup.

“Life, like football, can change just like that,” Llorente said.

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