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Barcelona retain La Liga lead but Real keep pace

Luis Suarez takes advantage of a dreadful backpass to fire Barcelona ahead against Espanyol

Barcelona retained top spot in La Liga as Luis Suarez scored twice to secure victory in the derby against Espanyol.

After Real Madrid moved three points ahead by beating Valencia earlier on Saturday, Barcelona’s title bid looked to be faltering in a nervy first half.

But Jose Manuel Jurado’s reckless 50th-minute backpass found Suarez, who fired low under keeper Diego Lopez.

Ivan Rakitic doubled the lead before Suarez capitalised on another Espanyol error to add a late third.

Barca are level on points with Real but are top because of a superior head-to-head record.

Luis Enrique’s side are also ahead on goal difference, but Real will claim the title if they win each of their remaining four league matches as they have a game in hand.

Despite dominating possession throughout, Barcelona’s feted front three of Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar were sluggish before the break, misplacing passes and failing to register a shot on target.

The visitors were gifted the lead, however, when ex-Watford midfielder Jurado tried to curve a pass back to Lopez with the outside of his foot, contriving only to give Suarez a free run on goal.

That mistake compounded an earlier one from Jurado, who dragged an effort well wide when through on goal as the hosts split the Barcelona defence apart on five minutes, in what proved to be their best chance of the game.

Even after Suarez’s opener, Espanyol held firm against their neighbours until Messi carved them apart with a surging run on 76 minutes, rolling the ball to Rakitic for a simple finish.

Espanyol left-back Aaron Martin then produced a horrid mis-kick when attempting to clear a cross, allowing Suarez to score his 26th league goal of the season.

Barcelona Real Madrid
Villarreal (h) Granada (a)
Las Palmas (a) Sevilla (h)
Eibar (h) Malaga (a)
Celta Vigo* TBA (a)
* match was postponed in February

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