BARCELONA, March 18, (RTRS): Barcelona moved 11 points clear at the top of La Liga on Sunday after beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 at home with a goal from Paco Alcacer and a thumping strike from Lionel Messi in the first half.
Alcacer took the place of suspended striker Luis Suarez in the starting line-up and scored a first goal in three months to put Barca ahead in the eighth minute, side-footing home a pass from Jordi Alba after Messi had cut in from the left.
The Argentine scored for the sixth game in a row in all competitions and for the 25th time in this league campaign when he doubled Barca’s lead in the 30th minute with a deadly strike into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Barca lead the standings on 75 points, 11 ahead of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid who were visiting Villarreal later on Sunday, with champions Real Madrid hosting Girona.
The Catalans were missing injured midfield linchpin Sergio Busquets as well as Suarez. However, they were rampant in the first half and could have taken a heavier lead into the break as Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho hit the woodwork twice and his compatriot Paulinho struck a post.
The unbeaten league leaders slowed down in the second half and Athletic came into the game for the first time but despite numerous forays into Barca’s area they rarely got close to troubling goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Earlier on Sunday Sevilla suffered a hangover from their Champions League triumph over Manchester United as they lost 2-1 at mid-table Leganes in La Liga on Sunday, their sixth defeat in 12 league games under coach Vincenzo Montella.
Sevilla qualified for the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition for the first time by beating United 2-1 at Old Trafford on Tuesday but went behind to Leganes four minutes before halftime to a looping header from defender Unai Bustinza.
Montella made three changes from the side that had stunned Old Trafford, giving a starting berth to Wissam Ben Yedder after he scored twice after coming off the bench on Tuesday, but his side rarely got going against Leganes.
Forward Javier Eraso side-footed home a second goal for the home side in the 69th minute and things got worse for Sevilla when midfielder Pablo Sarabia was sent off in the 84th for picking up two yellow cards inside 11 minutes.
Miguel Layun pulled a goal back for Sevilla in the 90th minute.
Sevilla are fifth in the Liga standings on 45 points, 12 behind fourth-placed Real Madrid and one ahead of Villarreal in sixth.