Barca win at Celta, Atletico run riot

Celta Vigo’s Argentinian midfielder #09 Tadeo Allende vies with Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder #08 Pedri during the Spanish league football match between RC Celta de Vigo and FC Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo on February 17, 2024. AFP

Robert Lewandowski snatched champions Barcelona an unconvincing 2-1 win over lowly Celta Vigo with a brace to leave them third in La Liga on Saturday.

Xavi Hernandez’s side trail leaders Real Madrid by seven points before Los Blancos visit Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Atletico Madrid, fourth, thrashed Las Palmas 5-0 earlier on and trail Barcelona by three points.

The Catalans needed a stoppage-time penalty converted by Lewandowski at the second attempt to find a way past a Celta Vigo side battling relegation, down in 17th place.

Lewandowski slammed the visitors ahead at Balaidos before half-time but Iago Aspas levelled for Rafa Benitez’s Celta early in the second half.

Barcelona tamely struggled to find a way through before being gifted a late spot-kick for a clumsy foul on Lamine Yamal, which Lewandowski dispatched for his 12th goal of the season.

Lewandowski’s first penalty attempt was saved by Vicente Guaita but as the goalkeeper was off his line, the striker was given another chance and he converted.

“On the second penalty I scored and that’s the important thing,” Lewandowski told DAZN.

The Catalans are unbeaten in four matches since Xavi said he would depart at the end of the season.

They face Napoli on Wednesday in the Champions League last 16, with Europe the club’s last realistic chance of silverware this season.

“I felt we played well until we got into the final third … we lacked the final ball,” Xavi told DAZN.

“I think the team had effort, attitude, commitment, the decision I made (to leave) was to get that, and it’s going well — 10 points from 12.”

Xavi handed Brazilian forward Vitor Roque his first start for the club on the left of the attack, alongside Lewandowski and 16-year-old sensation Yamal.

The latter was Barcelona’s brightest player once again, with the Catalans dependent on his skill and speed on the right flank to create danger.

– ‘Plugged in’ –

Barca broke the deadlock in the 45th minute when Yamal fed Lewandowski, who lashed home superbly from just inside the area.

The lead did not last long, with Aspas pouncing two minutes into the second half to level.

A slick move from Celta was finished by the veteran forward with the help of a deflection.

Barcelona hunted for the winner without success, until Yamal won a penalty in stoppage time.

Celta’s Fran Beltran accidentally kicked the winger when trying to clear the ball and Lewandowski converted from the spot to steal Barcelona three points.

Guaita saved Lewandowski’s first penalty but the veteran Polish striker stroked home clinically after being given a reprieve when the goalkeeper was shown to have moved off his line too quickly.

“Robert is ‘plugged in’, it makes me emotional to see the unity in the team,” added Xavi.

“I am happy for Robert’s goals but also for his hard work.”

Xavi said Barcelona’s performance summed up their campaign.

“This season we have to suffer and we seem destined to get agonising victories, we don’t dominate games and errors cost us points, it’s a bit of a summary of the season,” he explained.

Celta sit three points above the relegation zone after Cadiz, 18th, lost 2-0 at Osasuna earlier on.

Valencia, eighth, dominated Sevilla but could not find the breakthrough in a 0-0 draw.

Girona, second, visit fifth-place Athletic Bilbao on Monday.

Earlier Atletico Madrid hammered Las Palmas despite resting key forward Antoine Griezmann.

Marcos Llorente and Angel Correa struck twice each and Memphis Depay was also on target as Diego Simeone’s side strolled to victory.

Now 10 points behind Madrid despite the victory, Simeone decided to keep the French forward fresh for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 visit to face Inter Milan.

Without the injured Alvaro Morata, Atletico lined up with Correa and Llorente up front and it worked perfectly against promoted side Las Palmas, ninth.

“I’m sure (Griezmann) will be annoyed because he didn’t play,” said Simeone.

“We need a great Griezmann and we need him fresh.”

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