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Barcelona keeps big Liga lead as Messi attends birth of son

(AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)


Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona increased its lead in the Spanish league without star Lionel Messi, who took leave to attend the birth of his third son on Saturday.

Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho scored early in a 2-0 victory at Malaga, which was already trailing by two goals when one of its players was sent off for a dangerous tackle with an hour to go.

Barcelona eased off in the second half with its Champions League match against Chelsea at Camp Nou looming on Wednesday. Barcelona earned a 1-1 away draw in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie.

Barcelona remained unbeaten in the Spanish league through all 28 rounds and extended its lead to 11 points over Atletico Madrid, which hosts Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Real Madrid stayed another four points back in third place after Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to beat Eibar 2-1.

Jordi Alba's long cross met Suarez's run near the penalty spot, where the striker floated a header into the corner of the net for the opening goal.

Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, the two players Barcelona paid more than 300 million euros to sign this season, linked up to double the lead in the 28th.

Dembele used a quick cut back in the area to open a passing lane and slipped a ball to Coutinho, who completed the move with a skillful flick of the inside of his right boot to beat Malaga goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez.

Malaga lost Samuel Garcia to a direct red card for a rash studs-first tackle into the foot of Alba on the half-hour mark.

"The match was really just about the first half," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "We scored two goals and had chances to get more, and then the match was clearly ours after the sending off."

Ronaldo's 32nd and 33rd goals gave him one more than Messi over all competitions this season.

After struggling early in the season to find the net in the league, Ronaldo has 14 goals in his last nine league games.

His 18 in the competition put him third behind Suarez with 21 and Messi with 24.

"(Ronaldo) is from another galaxy," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "He knows he is going to score. The numbers speak for themselves."

Ronaldo struck against the flow of play in the 34th when Luka Modric intercepted a pass and set him up.

Eibar defender Ivan Ramis equalized in the 50th before being substituted for injury.

Madrid was six minutes away from dropping points when Ronaldo came through with a powerful header to send in Dani Carvajal's cross and grab victory.

Valencia is on course to lock up a top-four finish and Champions League berth after beating Sevilla 2-0, its nearest rival for fourth place.

Rodrigo Moreno scored twice to give Valencia an important away victory that opened up an 11-point advantage over fifth-place Sevilla.

Rodrigo Moreno netted his 11th and 12th league goals.

The forward first capitalized on a mistake by Sergio Escudero, whose flubbed attempt to intercept a long pass left Moreno all alone to beat goalkeeper Sergio Rico.

Luis Muriel hit the crossbar for Sevilla and Valencia goalkeeper Neto made a reflex save to parry Pablo Sarabia's shot before halftime.

Moreno beat Rico again after Geoffrey Kondogbia dribbled past three Sevilla players before playing him clear.

"These are more than just three points," Moreno said. "We have made an important step toward achieving our goal."

Sevilla visits Manchester United on Tuesday in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16. The first leg finished 0-0.

Levante won at Getafe 1-0 in the debut of manager Paco Lopez to break a run of 15 straight rounds without a victory.

Coke Andujar headed in a corner kick in the 79th to snatch the much-needed result that lifted Levante four points away from the relegation zone.

Updated March 10, 2018

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