Elche, Spain, Jan 24 (efe-epa).- Barcelona notched a rather lusterless 2-0 road win over Elche on Sunday, maintaining its unbeaten La Liga streak but worsening its rival’s situation a bit more as it found itself bitterly pocketing its 13th straight result outside the “W” column on its home turf at Martinez Valero Stadium.
The match was played to empty stands due to coronavirus gathering restrictions.
A goal by Frenkie De Jong in the 38th minute and another by Riqui Puig on a header right at the end of regulation time were the keys to victory for the Catalan squad, without the suspendedd Leo Messi.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen managed to stave off the only real threatening shot-on-goal mustered by the home team.
Ronald Koeman’s boys stuck with the script right from the start of the action, taking complete control of the game over an Elche that had to fall back on waiting for the visitors to make a mistake.
Barca, playing with a slow and methodical rhythm, admittedly did not manage to mount much of a threat, although De Jong once again showed his mettle with a nice tally and then delivered an assist for Puig’s score late in play.
The rather dull and lifeless victory was Barcelona’s second consecutive win without Messi, who is serving a suspension for garnering a straight red card in Sevilla last weekend during the team’s Spanish Super Cup final loss to Athletic Bilbao. The team notched an injury time win over Cornella at midweek last week.
Messi, however, will be back on the pitch for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey match at Rayo Vallecano.
Elche’s key play came about the one-hour mark after Oscar Mingueza was unable to get a handle on Samuel Umititi’s pass and Emiliano Rigoni went up against Ter Stegen for the shot, a try that the Barca netminder managed to deflect with his right foot.
Trincao tried for a tally twice as the game wore on, but Puig finally scored in the 88th minute after De Jong took the ball all the way down the right side before sending it into the box to Puig for the scoring header.
The win puts Koeman’s squad back in third place in the La Liga table, just three points behind Real Madrid and seven in back of No. 1 Atletico Madrid, who has two games in hand.
Atletico will play one of them at home against Valencia later on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Elche hovers way down the board in the 19th – or next-to-last – spot, below the relegation threshold, and looks poised to slip out of First Division at the conclusion of the season.
Elche CF: Edgar Badia; Barragan, Verdu, Diego Gonzalez, Mojica; Josan, Marcone, Guti (Luismi, min. 74), Victor (Nino, min. 81), Rigoni (Tete Morente, min. 74) and Lucas Boye.
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo, Umtiti, Jordi Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri (Riqui Puig, min. 86); Griezmann, Braithwaite and Dembele (Trincao, min. 73).
Referee: Pizarro Gomez showed yellow cards to Sergio Busquets and Griezmann, both with Barcelona.