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