BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi came off the bench to score one and create another as Barcelona beat Leganes 3-1 at Camp Nou on Sunday to restore their five-point lead at the top of La Liga.
Ousmane Dembele — who was later forced off with an ankle injury — gave Barca the lead in the first half, but the visitors equalised after the break through Martin Braithwaite. Barca edged back ahead when substitute Messi’s shot was too hot for Ivan Cuellar to handle, with Luis Suarez firing in the rebound from close range. Messi, who was only on for half an hour in total, then wrapped up the three points in stoppage time after good work from Jordi Alba.
There’s a case to be made that this was Dembele’s best performance in a Barca shirt. It was certainly his most confident. From the first minute he looked up for it, his pace and skills unmanageable for Leganes. It was also a good night for young midfielder Carles Alena, who was handed a rare start.
When it comes to Dembele, though, there’s a but. The Frenchman’s electric display ended early when he was forced off with an ankle problem. Supporters, who sang his name as he walked gingerly around the pitch back to the dressing room, will hope it’s nothing serious. It was also another frustrating night for Philippe Coutinho. Nothing quite came off for him.
Manager Rating out of 10
7 — Ernesto Valverde made a number of changes with the Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Sevilla on Wednesday in mind. He will be pleased that his side, therefore, managed to come away with the three points against a side they lost to earlier this season. Alena and Thomas Vermaelen were among those to do well coming into the team, while Messi got a small rest … for the first hour.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — Hadn’t had a save to make on his 100th La Liga appearance for the club when Leganes levelled from close range. Didn’t have much to do after, either.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 — Made up for some poor positioning at times with some last-ditch tackles. Always clever with possession in the final third.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 — Carried the ball out of the back well in the lead up to Dembele’s goal — although was slightly lucky not to give it away at the end — and did well up against the Danish striker Braithwaite, who was a handful for most of the evening.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 6 — Didn’t do much wrong on his return from injury but his one slip-up resulted in the Leganes goal as he failed to execute the offside trap.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 — Caught out with the long ball down the Leganes right in the build-up to the visitor’s goal. Prior to that, he’d been good, combining with Dembele to set up Barca’s opener. Then, as we see so often, linked with Messi to help wrap up the points.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 — Not at his finest but kept his position in front of the back four, limiting Leganes’ danger in the final third. Got away with a couple of sloppy passed, mind.
MF Carles Alena, 7 — A lively performance from the academy graduate, who can consider himself unlucky to have been taken off for Messi on the hour. Showed plenty of creativity and was always prepared to take his man on and filter passes between the lines.
MF Arthur Melo, 6 — A quiet performance by the Brazilian’s recent standards, with Dembele and Alena hogging the limelight on the left. Replaced by Ivan Rakitic early in the second period.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 9 — Lifted the noise levels inside a half-empty Camp Nou with an electric display. Scored one, could have scored more and would have had several assists if not for some sloppy finishing form his teammates. His pace was too much for Leganes time and again. And that was before he even got started on his feints, changes of direction and all-round general trickery. Desperately unlucky to be forced off with an injury.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 — Wasn’t his best 90 minutes. His touch was off and he didn’t get many chances. However, even on an off night he can still make the difference. Was Johnny on the Spot to restore Barca’s lead after Cuellar saved from Messi.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 5 — Not for a lack of effort, but things just aren’t coming off for him. Played a through ball for Suarez when the Uruguayan wanted it to his feet, got in the way of a Messi pass in the box and wasted two chances created by Dembele. Maybe he’s too eager to impress after returning to the team in recent weeks.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — Made the difference off the bench after Dembele had gone off by producing a wonderful piece of skill and shot that led to Suarez’s winner. Then capped a brilliant cameo with the late clincher after a trademark move with Alba.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 — Sat in alongside Busquets to allow Barca to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
FW Malcom, 5 — Came on for Dembele but was rarely involved.