Madrid: Barcelona held off Atletico Madrid to ensure they will be three points clear at the top of La Liga going into the winter break after beating a spirited Espanyol 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
First-half goals from Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi were enough to move Ernesto Valverde’s side up to 37 points and keep them one step ahead of Atletico, who earlier drew level with Barca with a 1-0 win over Espanyol thanks to an Antoine Griezmann penalty.
Dembele put the hosts into the lead after just nine minutes when he lashed home on the rebound after Messi’s first-time shot was pushed into his path by Celta keeper Ruben Blanco.
Messi doubled his side’s advantage just before half-time, bursting through completely unmarked to meet the excellent Jordi Alba’s through ball and wrong-foot Blanco as he slotted in his 15th league goal of the season.
Luis Suarez missed a great opportunity to put the result beyond any doubt on the hour mark when he flashed wide after being found by Alba with another fine pass, but despite frequently testing Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Celta couldn’t find the goal that would have put the Catalans under real pressure.
Earlier, Griezmann smashed home from the spot 10 minutes after the break to give Diego Simeone’s side three points from a hard-fought match with mid-table Espanyol that extended Atletico’s unbeaten league run to 14 matches.
“It was important to win regardless of how we did it,” said Atletico captain Diego Godin.
“We go into the [two-week] winter break happy with the three points.”
Serie A leading Juventus, meanwhile, earned a 1-0 home victory over AS Roma, thanks to a first-half goal from Mario Mandzukic, a result that stretched the club’s advantage over second-placed Napoli to eight points.
Juve answered head coach Massimiliano Allegri’s call for a more aggressive play at the Allianz Stadium here on Saturday, employing a high press that nearly led to goals in the first half hour by Alex Sandro and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Only outstanding net minding by Robin Olsen kept the game scoreless in the early going, but he was unable to stop a bouncing header by Mandzukic in the 34th minute.
The Croatian once again showed his outstanding ability in the air on the play, using his strength to beat a defender to a long cross by defender Mattia De Sciglio.
Mandzukic, who scored his eighth goal of the league season, is well on his way to topping his personal mark for goals in a Serie A campaign (10 in 2015-2016).
Olsen continued to shine between the uprights in the second half, saving two close-range shots by Ronaldo to keep the score 1-0 and increase the Portuguese superstar’s frustration.