Alexis Sanchez scored in the second half as Barcelona laboured to a 1-0 win at home to local rivals Espanyol on Friday in La Liga action at the Camp Nou.
The win sent Barcelona, who remain unbeaten in the league, four points clear of Atletico Madrid atop the table. Atletico host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Espanyol remains in eighth place.
For Barcelona's third match in seven days, manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino made six changes to the side that won 3-0 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday. Marc Bartra, Carles Puyol, Adriano, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Pedro all came out of the starting XI, making way for Martin Montoya, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Neymar.
Espanyol also played Tuesday, drawing 0-0 at home to Malaga. The Blanquiblaus, who have lost five of their last seven league matches, have taken just one point from Barcelona in their last seven meetings.
Barcelona maintained their 100 percent record at home this season, winning for the sixth time in as many tries. But superstar forward Lionel Messi failed to score for the fourth straight league match, and Barca never approached the heights they hit last season in beating Espanyol 4-0 in this same fixture.
Barcelona 1-0 Espanyol FT: Shots (OT) 19(5) - 8(2), Possession 74% - 26%, Tackles 22 - 27 http://t.co/IrZq2LJaC6— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) November 1, 2013
Ah well.... but FCB showed again that they improve or, yes, Real Madrid will win the league— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) November 1, 2013
Both Messi and Barca appeared off-kilter in a first half that produced few chances. Neymar had a goal ruled out for offside in the 16th minute, but perhaps the best chance of the half fell to Espanyol.
In the 36th minute, the visitors nearly took the lead after Thievy threaded the ball through Barca's defense and Dani Alves let it run into the path of Victor Sanchez.
Sanchez redirected the ball on goal, but Victor Valdes produced a fine reaction save to keep Barcelona level.
Barcelona came close near the end of the half as Dani Alves hit the upright with a 44th-minute drive, but the teams went into the break scoreless.
In the 54th minute, Messi forced a save from Kiko Casilla with a powerful header to the bottom corner. Neymar then came close eight minutes later with a superb curled effort from the edge of the box.
The breakthrough finally came in the 68th minute.
Neymar collected a pass from Sergio Busquets on the right and passed through the legs of two defenders. The ball found Alexis' run at the far post, and the Chilean tapped in for the game's only goal.
It was Alexis' seventh league goal of the season, one fewer than Messi's total.
Espanyol responded with effective pressing and quick passing, speeding up the pace of the match. Their endeavour nearly paid off in the 79th minute, when Sergio Garcia hauled down a high ball on the right side of the box and blasted a shot over the bar.
But that was as close as Espanyol came. In the closing minutes, Martino introduced Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Marc Bartra as substitutes as Barcelona look ahead to a midweek clash with AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League.
Messi has now failed to score in his last 4 league games for Barcelona. The last time that happend to him: March-April 2011— MESSISTATS (@MessiStats) November 1, 2013
Alexis: "Very happy with the goal. Happy with the win. Very tough match. Leo is in form, regardless of whether he scores or not."— Xoel Cardenas (@XoelCardenas) November 1, 2013
Barcelona: Victor Valdés; Martin Montoya, Javier Mascherano (Marc Bartra 89'), Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta (Cesc Fábregas 86'); Alexis Sánchez (Pedro 83'), Lionel Messi, Neymar
Espanyol: Kiko Casilla; Raúl Rodriguez, Sidnei, Héctor Moreno, Juan Rafael Fuentes; David López, Abraham González (Manuel Lanzarote 83'), Víctor Sánchez; Thievy (Jhon Córdoba 63'), Gabriel Torje; Sergio García
Goals: Alexis 68'
|Juan Rafael Fuentes||6|
Barcelona host AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday before returning to La Liga play with a match at Real Betis on Sunday, Nov. 10.
Espanyol host Sevilla on Sunday, Nov. 10, in a league match.