MADRID (AP) — Now it’s just a matter of time for Barcelona.
The Catalan club is on the brink of another Spanish league title after beating Alaves 2-0 on Tuesday to move within three points of clinching the championship. And that was with Lionel Messi staying on the bench until after both goals had been scored.
The celebrations for a second consecutive league trophy — and eighth in 11 seasons — could even start as early as Wednesday if Atletico Madrid loses at home against fifth-place Valencia. If not, a win against relegation-threatened Levante at home on Saturday would also secure Barcelona a 26th league title.
“It doesn’t matter when it happens,” coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We just want to win it whenever we can, because we know it’s very hard to win this league.”
Carles Alena and and Luis Suarez scored goals six minutes apart after halftime to leave Barcelona 12 points ahead of Atletico. If Diego Simeone’s team fails to earn at least a draw, it won’t be able to catch Barcelona in the final four matches because it loses to the Catalan club on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“We’ll see what happens in Atletico’s match,” Alena said. “I would like to win it on Saturday at home so we can celebrate with our fans, but if it happens tomorrow, it will be welcome as well.”
Messi entered the game in the 61st minute to replace Ousmane Dembele. It was the third time in seven matches that Valverde rested the Argentine playmaker, who also started on the bench in a 4-4 draw against Villarreal and missed the team’s 0-0 draw against relegation-threatened Huesca.
Barcelona was coming off difficult victories against Manchester United in the Champions League and Real Sociedad in the Spanish league, with Messi playing from the start in both matches. Barcelona will travel to face Liverpool in the first leg of the semifinals of the Champions League next week.
Other regular starters rested by Valverde on Tuesday included midfielder Arthur, central defender Clement Lenglet and left back Jordi Alba.
Alena opened the scoring with a low shot from inside the area in the 54th after Suarez helped set him up by letting Sergi Roberto’s pass go through his legs. Suarez sealed the victory by converting a 60th-minute penalty following a handball confirmed by video review.
The result extended Barcelona’s unbeaten streak to 21 matches in all competitions. It hasn’t lost in the league since November, when it fell 4-3 to Real Betis at home.
Alaves, winless in six consecutive matches, stayed eighth in the standings.
Valladolid took a step toward escaping relegation with a 1-0 home win against Girona, which is also trying to avoid demotion.
Owned by former Brazil striker Ronaldo, Valladolid moved to 15th in the standing with the victory, one point from safety with four matches remaining.
Michel scored the winner with a shot from outside the area in the 67th minute, ending his team’s five-match winless streak.
Girona, which has lost six in a row, dropped to 17th, just outside the relegation zone which is currently occupied by Levante, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano.
HUESCA LEAVES BOTTOM
Huesca left the bottom of the table for the first time since the seventh round by beating Eibar 2-0 at home with two remarkable second-half goals.
Enric Gallego opened the scoring with a back-heel touch in the 54th minute at El Alcoraz Stadium, and Chimy Avila added to the lead three minutes later with a spectacular volley off a corner kick, striking a powerful first-timer from just inside the area.
The victory moved Huesca past Rayo Vallecano to 19th place in the 20-team standings, five points from safety.
Playing in the first division for the first time, Huesca had drawn four straight and hadn’t won in seven games.
It was the third loss in four matches for Eibar, which stayed 13th.
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