Barcelona marked the signing of a new contact for coach Ernesto Valverde with a 1-0 win over relegation-battlers Real Valladolid to strengthen their grip at the top of LaLiga.
Valverde, whose deal sees him committed to the Nou Camp club for at least another season, had made five changes from the team which was held to a goalless draw by Athletic Bilbao, as Kevin-Prince Boateng came in for a debut.
Despite having one eye on next week’s Champions League last 16 clash against Lyon, the Blaugrana eventually broke down a stubborn Valladolid side, Lionel Messi converting a penalty just before half-time.
However, Valladolid’s former Barcelona goalkeeper Jordi Masip produced a string of fine saves to prevent Barcelona further extending their lead – including denying Messi from the spot late on and then catching the follow-up header.
Barcelona moved back seven points clear of Atletico Madrid, with rivals Real in action again on Sunday.
Boateng, signed in a surprise initial loan move from Italian club Sassuolo during the Janaury window, had an early chance, but it was not enough to really trouble goalkeeper Masip.
On 20 minutes, Messi released Ousmane Dembele, but defender Kiko Olivas was able to get across and make a saving tackle.
At the other end, Gerard Pique had to be alert to block as Enes Unal created an opening for Sergi Guardiola.
Messi, though, soon stepped things up and first saw a goal-bound shot blocked before a follow-up effort was deflected wide.
Valladolid then broke and had a man over, but Nacho failed to pick out Guardiola unmarked in the centre.
It proved a telling error as Barcelona swiftly countered and were awarded a penalty on 44 minutes when Michel hauled down Pique.
Messi blasted the resulting spot-kick past Masip into the bottom-right corner.
The Argentina playmaker almost grabbed another at the start of the second half, but Masip made a fine reaction save from his volley after a cross by Jordi Alba.
Dembele had soon picked out Messi again, but this time his left foot effort curled wide.
Masip produced another impressive move when Boateng looked to round the Valladolid goalkeeper, who stood up to force the forward wide.
In a rare moment of action in the Barcelona penalty area, Unal headed wide from a free-kick.
As the hour mark passed, Luis Suarez replaced Boateng, and the Uruguay forward was soon through on goal, but again Masip made a stop, this time with his legs before saving the follow-up from Dembele.
With 15 minutes left, Suarez failed to connect properly at the back post, when he looked set to knock the ball in.
Sergi Roberto curled a hopeful effort wide before Suarez was tripped in the penalty area.
Masip, though, this time did prove equal to Messi’s spot-kick, producing a brilliant save at full stretch down to his left and then getting up to catch the Argentinian’s follow-up header
Messi curled a 20-yard effort just wide before Masip denied Suarez again in stoppage time.
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