Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba 8/10 as Barcelona keep clean sheet and beat Girona
GIRONA, Spain -- Goals from Nelson Semedo and Lionel Messi helped Barcelona beat Girona 2-0 on Sunday at Montilivi and restored their five-point lead at the top of the table.
Semedo gave Barca the lead inside the opening 10 minutes in the game, which La Liga had hoped would take place in Miami -- opposition to that proposal meant it wasn't, in the end -- when he pounced on a loose ball inside the area.
Cristhian Stuani was thrice denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen as the home side pushed for an equaliser, but their chances of earning a point diminished when Bernardo Espinosa was sent off for a second booking. Messi then wrapped up the three points in the 68th minute with a delectable chip after being set up by Jordi Alba.
Girona may be without a win in seven league games, but they've had a tough run of games, and this Catalan derby was always going to be difficult for Barca. That they managed to come through it with fairly few problems, plus another clean sheet, will please Ernesto Valverde.
There was also a deserved first goal for the club for right-back Semedo, who joined from Benfica in 2017.
Barca slouched in the middle of the game. For about 30 minutes, they took their foot off the gas. Stuani could have punished them. Even against 10 men, they looked second-best for a few minutes. However, Messi's goal eased any fears of dropping points.
It was also another missed opportunity for Coutinho in the absence of the injured Ousmane Dembele. He wasted two good chances that came his way and continues to look short of confidence.
Manager Rating out of 10
7 -- Valverde picked a strong team, respecting the nature of the game and the rivalry, and also made the right change in the second half when Girona got on stop. Arthur Melo's introduction for Arturo Vidal wrestled back control of the game.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 7 -- Comfortable passing out from the back under high Girona pressure but made his biggest impact with a trio of saves to deny Stuani. The Uruguayan's best chance came in the first half. He looked set to level things up before the break, but the German's outstretched right foot had other ideas.
DF Nelson Semedo, 7 -- Opened the scoring with his first-ever goal for Barca. The finish was really good, too. Was also good in defence, with his recovery pace an asset that Sergi Roberto -- his competition for a starting spot -- just doesn't have.
DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- Had a tough time of it against a Girona team keen to get the ball into the area as early as possible. Despite that he did well, winning his individual battled and making a vital goal line clearance from Pere Pons when Barca were 1-0 up. That said, got away with one sloppy pass after the break.
DF Clement Lenglet, 7 -- Like Pique, dealt well with Girona's aerial threat and showed plenty of commitment to win the ball in a number of 50-50 challenges.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 -- Who would have thought it? Another assist for Messi. Alba's great season continued with another nonstop performance. The only worry Valverde has is that there's no one in the squad to rest him. Will he end up running out of batteries?
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- One of his better performances in recent weeks. Was composed on the ball, twisting and turning under pressure. A great interception in the area denied an almost certain Aleix Garcia goal, too. However, a first-half booking for a cynical foul means he will be suspended for next week's game at home to Valencia.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Played in a more attacking role than he has done recently, with an apparent freedom to get forward on the left. Linked well with Messi and Alba, but made a couple of poor decisions in good areas. Should have taken a shot when played in by Messi in the first half. Instead, he tried to pass and the chance passed with it.
MF Arturo Vidal, 6 -- The chaos of Girona's press didn't really suit his style surprisingly and Barca improved once he was replaced by Arthur.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Even on an average day for Messi, he still stands out. His passes, one for Coutinho and another for Rakitic, should have ended up as goals. In the end, he had to wrap up the points himself. His second-half chip was his 19th league goal of the season.
FW Luis Suarez, 7 -- Denied a goal at the death by a decent Bono save. Worked hard, though, and his pass opened the defence in the build-up to Messi's goal.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Missed a one-on-one after being sent through by Messi in the first half and another in stoppage time. Still looks low on confidence. Misplaced the odd pass and had several stray touched. Not looking like a €160 million footballer at the moment.
MF Arthur Melo, 7 -- Changed the game when he came on, bringing back the midfield control Barca had lost.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, NR -- Continue his return from an injury with a 10-minute run-out in Lenglet's place.
MF Sergi Roberto, NR -- Came on for Busquets for the final few minutes.