Ilkay Gundogan stroked home a stoppage time penalty to grab champions Barcelona a barely deserved 2-1 win at Las Palmas on Thursday.
Xavi Hernandez’s side badly needed to win after leaders Real Madrid and Girona did so on Wednesday, with victory leaving the Catalans seven points behind the top two.
Athletic Bilbao are fourth after a solid 2-0 win at Sevilla earlier Thursday, with Atletico Madrid fifth following their dramatic 4-3 defeat by Girona.
Barca were at times outplayed by the mid-table Canary Islanders, who took the lead through former Blaugrana striker Munir El Haddadi in the 12th minute.
Ferran Torres pulled Barcelona level in the second half and Gundogan netted the winner from the spot after he was shoved over in the box when poised to head into an empty net.
“In the first half they had two or three chances but in the second half they only had a corner,” Xavi told Movistar.
“I think we made good substitutions and that told.”
Barcelona improved after the break and put the hosts on the back foot, with Torres striking quickly to level the game.
The coach brought on attackers Joao Felix, Lamine Yamal and new arrival Vitor Roque in search of the winner, taking off veteran forward Robert Lewandowski.
“Ferran always does well for us,” continued Xavi.
“There’s a lot of competition up top and there will be minutes for all the players.”
Las Palmas coach Francisco Garcia Pimienta, formerly in charge of Barcelona’s reserve side, and his team offered their illustrious visitors a largely frustrating night.
Joao Cancelo hurt his left knee in a challenge in the opening stages and was forced off in an early blow for the Catalans, who struggled badly in the first half.
Xavi said after the game that Cancelo’s injury did not seem too serious and would be analysed on Friday.
Munir tucked home the opener after being set up by a low cross from Sandro Ramirez, another former Blaugrana youth academy product.
Inaki Pena tipped a low Sandro strike wide as the hosts had the better of the first half with Xavi’s side looking disconnected and even disinterested at times.
The visitors’ first chance came when Frenkie de Jong sent Sergi Roberto scuttling through on goal but his pass for Ferran Torres was cut out by another former Barca player, Mika Marmol.
– ‘Lacked timing’ –
Raphinha lashed over after the break as Barcelona stepped up their game, as they have done on multiple occasions this season, while Pena did well to deny Munir at the other end.
Barcelona levelled just over 10 minutes into the second half when a Las Palmas clearance bounced back into danger off the unwitting Robert Lewandowski.
Sergi Roberto laid the ball off for Torres to roll a low effort past the reach of Alvaro Valles.
Marmol could have sent Las Palmas ahead again but nodded wide from a corner when well placed.
Xavi sent on new Barca arrival Vitor Roque for the final 12 minutes, and the Brazilian striker, signed from Athletico Paranaense, looked sharp.
The match was decided when Daley Sinkgraven shoved over Gundogan to concede a penalty, as the German midfielder tried to head home a parried strike.
Sinkgraven was dismissed and Gundogan sent Valles the wrong way from the spot to keep Barcelona’s title defence alive.
Roque missed a golden opportunity to score his first Barcelona goal and wrap up the victory, but his team left both triumphant and relieved regardless.
“We knew they were an opponent that wanted the ball, we were on top and the important thing is that we got the three points,” Torres told Movistar.
“They played with a high line and we had to attack the spaces — we lacked timing with our final ball.”
Ernesto Valverde’s impressive Athletic Bilbao beat Sevilla with goals from Mikel Vesga and Aitor Paredes, without talisman Inaki Williams — heading to the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana.
Sevilla, who appointed new coach Quique Sanchez Flores in December, languish in 16th, just one point above the relegation zone.
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