Barcelona labored through a tough 90 minutes on the outskirts of Madrid, but will be going home with another three points in the bag. It was a difficult game for Barcelona as they struggled to get anything going for the majority of the game, but a Luis Suarez brace, with both goals coming on the rebound, and a late tally from Paulinho were more than enough for the win.
A slow, quiet start to the proceedings on the pitch, amid an excellent atmosphere at the Estadio Municipal de Butarque, was interrupted by a quick counter attack by Barcelona in the 5th minute. The counter resulted in a calm finish by Luis Suarez into the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out for offside, as Jordi Alba was marginally offside in the build-up.
Leganes showed little intent going forward early, possessing the ball in Barcelona’s half on just a handful occasions in the opening 10 minutes. Asier Garitano clearly was focused on defense, but Barcelona also couldn’t create much, or even push Leganes deep. The hosts’ defense was aggressive and Barcelona struggled to string together passes in the opposing third.
Lack of action on either end continued as Barcelona found it very difficult to get anything going, while Leganes stayed true to their game plan, unwilling to risk much. Despite their defense-first tactic, the hosts were the first team to take a shot – 20 minutes after the opening whistle. It came after a turnover by Ivan Rakitić in midfield, but Nordin Amrabat’s shot missed high and wide. Six minutes later Leganes again tried to surprise Barcelona, but Gabriel’s long range shot also went wide.
While Barcelona enjoyed more possession, it would’ve been a massive stretch to say that the Catalans were the better team. Leganes, while defense oriented, always looked organized in attack. However, Barcelona would take the lead in the 28th minute after a rare mistake from the usually sure-handed Ivan "Pichu" Cuellar. Paco Alcacer received a long pass on the right side of the penalty area. Whether he then attempted a pass or fired a shot on goal remains a mystery, but it surprised Cuellar who took a step out of the net, now having to reach back to make the save. But out of position, all he could do was knock the ball down in front of the line, where Suarez pounced on the loose ball and buried it into the empty net.
Two minutes later, Barcelona received some bad news from one of the usual suspects, referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco, who showed Gerard Pique a yellow card on a very questionable play. As a result of said yellow card, Pique will miss the upcoming top of the table match-up with Valencia.
After conceding, Leganes showed much more attacking ambition, but their defense didn’t suffer either. But Barcelona did suffer for the remaining 15 minutes as they often found themselves pinned deep by the hosts. While Marc-Andre ter Stegen wasn’t tested often as the defense more often than not did its job, the German had to make a fabulous save on Alexander Szymanowski in the 35th minute after he was set up by Amrabat who undressed Pique on the left wing. The home side was pushing for the equalizer up until the halftime whistle, but Barcelona went into the break up by one goal.
While Barcelona didn’t make any changes during halftime, Leganes brought on some attacking firepower as Claudio Beauvue replaced Javi Eraso. Beauvue was quickly called into action as he was played behind the Barcelona back-line for a one-on-one with ter Stegen. The Frenchman fired a good, low shot on goal, but ter Stegen was in perfect position to make the save.
Unlike in the first half, Barcelona showed some good movement in attack in the second half, however, Cuellar went largely untested. On the other end of the pitch, ter Stegen had to be on his game as Leganes looked dangerous in attack and were outshooting Barcelona 9-3 after 59 minutes. Barcelona made two substitutions in the 59th minute, as Nelson Semedo and Andres Iniesta were taken off and replaced by Aleix Vidal and Paulinho.
Despite Leganes’ very good overall play, Barcelona doubled their lead seconds before the one-hour mark. Lionel Messi and Alcacer excellently combined on the left wing, with Paco firing a powerful shot on goal. Cuellar made the save, but the rebound fell to Suarez who fired an acrobatic volley on target. It’s very likely that Cuellar would’ve saved that one as well, but the ball ricochet off Ruben Perez into the back of the net
Now down by two goal, Leganes pushed higher up, meeting Barcelona deep in their own area and unlike the Catalans, the hosts were able to create scoring chances with greater frequency. Ter Stegen had to make yet another strong save in the 64th minute, after Amrabat again without much trouble got around Pique.
Barcelona created their arguably best scoring chances of the game, including both goals, in the 75th minute. It was a lovely flowing move which included numerous Barcelona players and saw Suarez go for the hat-trick, but the shot was blocked. The loose ball fell to Vidal on the far post, but the Spaniard’s aim was poor, missing the target altogether from an excellent spot.
While Barcelona were leading by two goals, not even going into the last ten minutes of the game was there a feeling that the match was decided. Leganes were dangerous in attack while Barcelona didn’t look especially sure-footed in defense. Ernesto Valverde made his third substitution in the 82nd minute, with Denis Suarez taking Alcacer’s spot on the pitch.
Leganes’s attacking efforts dwindled in the final minutes of the game, but Barcelona had two excellent chances in the 88th minute, but both Messi’s long range effort and Suarez’s close range try off the rebound were excellently saved by Cuellar. Still, Barcelona managed to score the third goal in the dying moments of the game. A long Barcelona attack reached climax when Messi while tumbling over managed to send the ball into the danger area for Paulinho who poked the ball in.
Next up of Barcelona is the Champions League as the Catalans travel to Italy where they will face off against Juventus.