Barcelona exploits set pieces in comeback win at Leganes

Barcelona's Luis Suarez, right, fights for the ball with Leganes' Unai Bustinza during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Leganes and FC Barcelona at the Butarque stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday Nov. 23, 2019. (Paul White/AP)

BARCELONA, Spain — With its world-class attack falling short against the worst team in the Spanish league, Barcelona turned to an underused weapon to remain atop the standings.

Barcelona ground out a 2-1 victory at last-placed Leganes on Saturday thanks to a pair of second-half goals by Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal — both from set-pieces.

Barcelona is known for its attractive passing-based attack and finely crafted buildups that can generate spectacular goals. But Leganes deployed two lines of well-co-ordinated defenders in front of its area and stifled almost all attempts by Barcelona to break through.

The defending champions eked out a pair of goals — from a free kick and a corner that led to a defensive error — to move three points ahead of Real Madrid, which played Real Sociedad late.

"There were so many players in the middle of the field that we had to look to set-pieces," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "Today we clearly saw that we were going to need to score on a cross or an isolated play because linking up through the middle was impossible."

Atletico Madrid was held at Granada to 1-1 before its trip to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday. Atletico is in third place, tied on points with Madrid but behind on goal difference.

SET-PIECES

Barcelona’s preferences for strong passing skills and creativity — over more powerful and often taller players — can downplay the utility of set-pieces.

With his preferred route of quickly combining passes in short distances to weave his way to the goal cut off, Lionel Messi earned a foul outside the area. He then found Suarez with a lob that the striker headed home to equalize in the 53rd minute.

That cancelled out a 12th-minute opener from long range by Youssef En-Nesyri.

Leganes was still close to taking a point until midfielder Ruben Perez knocked a Barcelona corner toward his own net, allowing substitute Vidal to tap in the winner with 11 minutes left.

"It hurts because they got us on set-pieces," said Leganes coach Javier Aguirre after his second game in charge of the small Madrid-based side. "That is completely my fault. I have to tell my players how I want them to defend set-pieces better."

ATLETICO HELD

Atletico squandered the first goal by left back Renan Lodi in the 60th when he shot between the legs of goalie Rui Silva.

A defensive lapse helped Granada’s German Sanchez head in the equalizer seven minutes later.

João Felix returned from injury for Atletico as a late substitute after missing six matches because of an ankle sprain.

LATE CANALES

Sergio Canales curled in a free kick from a tight angle on the last kick of the match to snatch a 2-1 win for Real Betis over Valencia.

Valencia’s Lee Kang-in struck the woodwork in injury time before Canales got the winner.

The slip by Valencia came four days before it hosts Chelsea in the Champions League.

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