Lionel Messi unusually quiet but Barca see off new Catalan rivals Girona
GIRONA, Spain -- Two own goals and Luis Suarez's second goal of the season helped Barcelona to a 3-0 win in their first ever top-flight meeting with Catalan rivals Girona on Saturday.
A brimming Estadi Montilivi was always going to provide a tough test for Barca, but they came through it despite being a long way from their best for large parts of the match. Ernesto Valverde's side have now won all six of their league fixtures and have a four-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid, meanwhile, remain seven points back after their win at Alaves earlier in the day.
Despite the three points, Valverde will have seen plenty to work on ahead of this week's Champions League match against Sporting Lisbon. This was not a convincing performance. They gave up too many chances, the midfield was poor and they were caught offside 14 times -- Suarez the main offender -- as they mistimed runs time and again. There also seemed to be a disconnect in attack, which saw several promising moves break down.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Valverde managed to shuffle his pack once again without any major consequences. Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were the two given rests here. However, with Girona on top, the Barca coach recognised the need to introduce Busquets to the midfield.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 8 -- Possibly Barca's best player in the first half, making a fine double save with the score still goalless. The second stop from on-loan Manchester City midfielder Douglas Luiz was particularly impressive. More saves followed in the second half and he always looked to keep the ball moving with his feet, even though that leaves some Barca fans with their hearts in their mouths at times.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Returned to the side at right-back and it looks increasingly like that will be where he plays most often again this season. Offers so much energy and is aware of his defensive responsibilities.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Second successive start for the Argentine, who once again put his body on the line more than once to make blocks and tackles. His time at Barca is drawing to an end but he still has a role to play.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- Gave the ball away once due to some poor control in the first half and was part of a Barca defence that allowed Girona a number of chances. Somehow, though, the hosts didn't take any of them.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 -- The left-back's volley from a long corner led to the opening goal, with Girona wing back Aday Benitez deflecting the ball into his own net. Alba had a great chance to make it 2-0, too, but was denied by Gorka Iraizoz when one-on-one. Also had an interesting battle in defence with the lively Portu, but will feel he came out on top.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Valverde asked him to sit deeper in midfield than usual, taking the position usually occupied by the resting Sergio Busquets. Stuck to his role well but was guilty of giving the ball away too much in the first half.
MF Paulinho, 5 -- Was heavily involved in the first half but wasn't able to contribute in the final third as much as he has done in the last two games. A couple of moves with Aleix Vidal didn't quite come off, while he headed a Rakitic corner a good distance wide. Often left space behind him when looking to run in-between the lines.
MF Andres Iniesta, 6 -- Everyone keeps expecting Barca's captain to be given a rest, but Valverde keeps putting him out on the pitch. Perhaps that's because, Busquets aside, he's the only midfielder capable of controlling a game. Always bought time when he was on the ball but was unable to make as much happen creatively as he would have liked.
FW Aleix Vidal, 7 -- The injury to Ousmane Dembele has given him the chance to move forward into a right-wing position. Came into the starting lineup for Gerard Deulofeu and missed a great early chance to give Barca the lead. His participation, though, went from more to less as the game progressed, although his back-heel led to the second own goal.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Rested against Eibar on Tuesday, the idea was he'd be back firing at Girona. That wasn't the case, though, and when he wasn't missing chances he was offside. However, the Uruguayan never gives up and his fight and persistence led to Barca's third goal, which he took well when clean through.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Cut a frustrated figure on the Montilivi pitch. Every time he got the ball he seemed to have a Girona hand tugging at his shirt, which drew plenty of glances from the Argentine in the referee's direction. Came close from a free kick in the first half, but was denied by a fine Iraizoz save.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Came on to apply control in midfield and just about managed it. There were three sublime pieces of skill thrown in for good measure, too.
MF Denis Suarez, NR -- A late introduction for Iniesta with the game already up.
MF Andre Gomes, NR -- Like Denis, came on for the final few minutes in place of Vidal.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.