Barca keep pace with Real | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 01, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:30 AM, May 01, 2017

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Barca keep pace with Real

Barcelona came through a testing local derby at Espanyol, winning 3-0 on Saturday to cling to their slender lead at the top of La Liga after rivals Real Madrid had set the challenge by beating Valencia 2-1 in the earlier kick-off.

Barca triumphed thanks to two clinical finishes from Luis Suarez and a strike from Ivan Rakitic following a vintage slalom run by Lionel Messi.

Barcelona were without captain Andrés Iniesta through a groin injury, but had Brazil forward Neymar available again following his suspension.

Suárez returned to lead the attack after being an unused substitute for the 7-1 thrashing of bottom club Osasuna at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night.

Suarez pounced on a disastrous backpass from Jose Manuel Jurado to break the deadlock in the 50th minute and Rakitic sealed the win in the 76th by side-footing home Messi's cutback after the Argentine had torn through the home defence.

Suarez, who had failed to score in his previous five games in all competitions, took advantage of another calamitous error by the otherwise impressive Espanyol backline and rifled in Barca's third from close range in the 87th minute.

The pressure was on Barca after Real Madrid had beaten Valencia 2-1 earlier in the day to provisionally lead the standings, and the champions got an early fright when Jurado eased into their area but fired wide of the far post.

Espanyol's good organisation then went to waste when Jurado gifted the ball to Suarez, who knocked it past former Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez with an effortless flick of the outside of his right boot to send the champions on their way.

"The only thing we can do is win our games and keep putting a little pressure on," Suarez told Spanish TV station Movistar.

"They [Real Madrid] have a difficult and tiring schedule and we'll see what happens come the end of the season."

Barca top the standings on 81 points due to their superior head-to-head record over Real, who also have 81 and have a game in hand.

Marcelo came to Real Madrid's rescue four minutes after his side had conceded a potentially crucial Valencia equaliser, from Dani Parejo which could have seriously dented their hopes of landing a first title since 2012.

Marcelo promptly grabbed the winner, cutting inside from the left-hand side of the area and curling the ball under Alves with his right foot, as Real's title bid benefited from yet another crucial late goal.

"I can't explain how we keep on scoring late goals. All I know is it's exciting, it's beautiful," coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters.

Atletico Madrid warmed up for their Champions League semi-final first leg against Real by hammering Las Palmas 5-0 away with two goals from Kevin Gameiro and strikes from Saul Niguez, Thomas Partey and Fernando Torres.

Granada's run of six consecutive seasons in La Liga ended following a 2-1 defeat at Real Sociedad, leaving Tony Adams's side 10 points adrift of safety with three games left. They join basement club Osasuna in the Segunda Division next season.

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