Ilkay Gundogan set up Robert Lewandowski and added a goal of his own to lead 10-man Barcelona to a 3-1 win at Alaves in the Spanish league on Saturday.
Second-place Girona missed the chance to retake the lead after being held 0-0 at home by Real Sociedad. Girona coach Míchel Sánchez was sent off with a red card in the 89th, apparently for excessive protests.
Girona is one point behind Real Madrid, which hosts fourth-place Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Barcelona was already leading 3-1 when substitute Vitor Roque, who scored the visitors’ third goal, was sent off in the 72nd minute after picking up two quick yellow cards.
This made it two straight wins for Barcelona since Xavi Hernández said he would not continue as coach after this season following last weekend’s 5-3 loss at home to Villarreal. After that debacle he had said his players had lacked the “maturity” to protect their lead and compete for the entire match.
But after the comfortable win in Vitoria, Xavi praised his team for what he called a “mature,” all-round performance.
“I think my team played a mature game,” Xavi said. “It showed it knew how to compete, and at a pitch that is very demanding and requires you to be focused for 90 minutes. I am satisfied. This is the response by the team that I expected.”
Barcelona also won midweek with a 1-0 league win over Osasuna, thanks to Roque’s first goal since joining the team last month.
Lewandowski ended a six-round scoreless streak when he chipped the goalkeeper after receiving a through ball from Gundogan for the opener in the 22nd.
After Alaves came close to equalizing at the end of the first half, Gundogan skillfully volleyed in a lobbed pass by Pedri González at the far post to double the lead in the 49th.
Alaves striker Samuel Omorodion responded quickly to Gundogan’s goal with a header in the 51st.
But Roque, who came on for Gundogan, scored for a second consecutive game to likely ensure the victory in the 63rd before he left the visitors a man down.
Third-place Barcelona moved to within seven points of Madrid.
While others got the goals, 16-year-old Lamine Yamal again stood out as the team’s most creative and incisive attacking player thanks to his footwork and dribbling skills from the right flank.
“Robert is our scorer. He can go through rough spells and he can say he has lost his spark, but he was key again for us today,” Xavi said about Lewandowski, before also praising Yamal.
“Lamine is an incredible talent,” Xavi said. “He is the complete package, and the most important thing is how he works for the team.”
Facundo Pellistri made his debut for Granada in its 1-1 draw with Las Palmas after joining the hosts on loan from Manchester United. Granada played with 10 men from the 21st after Kamil Piatkowski was shown a red card.
Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk scored as Valencia beat bottom side Almeria 2-1 and kept it winless through 23 rounds.