GIRONA, Spain — Barcelona won its eighth straight Spanish league game as Lionel Messi scored in a 2-0 win at 10-man Girona on Sunday.
Barcelona kept its five-point lead over Atletico Madrid with Messi grabbing his 10th goal in a seven-game scoring streak in the league. He was left all alone to chip the ball over goalkeeper Yassine Bounou in the 69th minute.
The Spanish league had originally wanted to play the match in the United States, but the plan fell through. Instead of travelling 7,500 kilometres (4,600 miles) to Miami, Barcelona went 100 kilometres (60 miles) to Girona’s Montilivi Stadium.
Right back Nelson Semedo gave Barcelona the ninth-minute lead when a loose ball fell to him in the area, and he used his left leg to rifle it inside the post.
But Girona stifled Barcelona’s attack and threatened to equalize on several occasions through striker Cristhian Stuani.
Stuani’s best chance came late in the first half when Marc-Andre ter Stegen got low to block his shot. Teammate Pere Pons came close to finishing off the rebound, only for Gerard Pique to clear his shot from the line.
Girona still gave Barcelona trouble until coach Ernesto Valverde sent on Arthur for Arturo Vidal.
With Arthur helping in the midfield, Barcelona took control. Suarez then played Jordi Alba clear down the left, where the defender found Messi at the top of the box with only Bounou to beat.
“After the sending off, they were pressuring us well. We wanted to take possession of the ball and each time we lost possession Stuani was tormenting us,” Valverde said. “Messi’s goal solved everything.”
Messi scored his competition-leading 19th goal of the season.
Messi was back in Barcelona’s starting 11 after getting some rest in the previous two matches. He scored as a substitute in a 3-1 win over Leganes last weekend, and then was left off the squad in a 2-0 loss at Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona hosts Sevilla in the return leg of their cup quarterfinal on Wednesday.
It was Girona’s eighth straight game without a win.