Sports Desk, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- Barcelona beat Espanyol 1-0 on Wednesday to condemn their cross-town rivals to relegation and sustain their own admittedly slim hopes of overtaking Real Madrid atop LaLiga.
The Blaugrana go to 76 points from 35 matches, just 1 less than Real Madrid, though the Blancos have a game in hand.
On 24 points, last-place Espanyol are 11 from safety with just three matches left to play in the pandemic-disrupted campaign and will see their current run in the top flight end after 26 years.
Barça all but owned the ball from the opening whistle, but were stymied by the solid defending of Espanyol, who likewise created the first serious chance of the night, an Adrian Embarba strike in the 11th minute that forced a save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Lionel Messi went directly for goal on a corner in the 14th minute and tested Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez on a free kick in the 22nd, three minutes before Luis Suarez failed to get off a shot after a pass from Antoine Griezmann found the Uruguayan in a promising position.
The closest either side came to scoring in the first half was when Espanyol’s Didac Vila hit the post in the 44th minute.
Knowing his squad needed to take all 3 points to maintain even a slim chance of catching Real Madrid, Barcelona Quique Setien sought to shake up the contest by replacing Nelson Semedo with 17-year-old Ansu Fati.
And the youngster didn’t take long to make an impact, albeit not in the way Setien hoped. Fati spent barely four minutes on the pitch before being sent off for coming in with a high foot against Espanyol’s Fernando Calero.
Referee Munuera Montero was poised to let Fati off with a yellow card until the VAR official urged him to look at the replay.
Before Espanyol could exploit the man advantage, it disappeared, as Pol Lozano got a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Gerard Pique in the 53rd minute.
Barcelona needed just three minutes to capitalize. Messi and Griezmann combined to get the ball to Suarez in the box and he bested Lopez to make it 1-0.
Lopez did well to deny Messi in the 69th minute and Ter Stegen found himself the busier of the two keepers in the final phase, making a pair of stops against Raul de Tomas and one on a strike from Bernardo Espinosa.
In Wednesday’s other LaLiga action, Santi Cazorla had a brace as Villarreal defeated Getafe 3-1 to climb into fifth place and move to within 3 points of Sevilla, who have played one fewer match.
Cazorla put Villarreal ahead from the penalty spot in the 66th minute. Hugo Duro equalized for the hosts in the 80th, but the former Arsenal man got his second six minute later, again from the spot, and Ruben Peña settled the matter with a goal in the 93rd minute.
Getafe are sixth, just 2 points ahead of Real Sociedad, who have a game in hand.
In Seville, 13th-place Real Betis defeated Osasuna, who hold the 11th spot, in a contest between two clubs assured of staying up.
Guido Rodriguez, Alfonso Pedraza and Carles Aleña scored for the hosts. EFE