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A 90th minute Leo Messi penalty handed FC Barcelona a narrow 2-1 win over Leganés on Sunday evening in what was a challenging encounter at the Camp Nou.
Ahead of the game, Luis Enrique spoke about his keenness to see a reaction from his side after the midweek disappointment in Paris.
The early signs were positive as the front three combined to perfection, quickly defusing any lingering tension around the Camp Nou.
On four minutes, Neymar played in Luis Suárez down the left-hand side who then picked out Messi with the outside of his boot, leaving the Argentine with the simple task of tapping home from close range (1-0).
The early goal gave the impression that the floodgates would open, but it would prove to be a hugely demanding match against a side making their first appearance at the Camp Nou.
Ter Stegen to the rescue
The next golden chance of the game fell to the visitors as a ball over the top put Nabil El Zhar one-on-one with Marc-André ter Stegen. Despite his initial hesitancy, the big German denied the forward not once but twice to keep Barça ahead.
Barça began to reaffirm their dominance and came close to doubling their lead midway through the half. An eye of the needle through ball from Suárez to Messi gave the no.10 a chance to double the team’s lead but his attempted dink was well-saved by the keeper.
To their credit, Leganés did not drop their heads after that early goal and again came close to a leveler on 35 minutes, as defender Mantovani headed over from close range.
On the stroke of half-time, Barça had their keeper to thank for maintaining their lead as he produced the save of the game. El Zhar’s long range attempt deflected off Umtiti, requiring Ter Stegen to change direction and expertly palm the ball away.
Leganés pressure did not subside in the second half either. Ter Stegen was proving the difference-maker as he got down well to deny Guerrero’s drilled effort across goal.
Barça needed a spark from somewhere to sway the game back in their favour and Rafinha looked to provide it as he mazed through the opposition defence only for his eventual effort to be cleared off the line.
But that momentum was not seized upon and Leganés finally had the equaliser that they deserved on 70 minutes. Sergi Roberto was dispossessed on the right touchline and Darwin Machis had the space to pick out Unai López on the edge of the box whose low shot found its way beneath Ter Stegen for 1-1.
Messi on the spot
It certainly was not a vintage performance from Barça on the night, but the determination and belief to squeeze out the three points remained until the very end.
With time running out, Neymar took on his man on the wing before weaving into the area, only to be chopped down by Mantovani, leaving the referee no other option but to point to the spot.
The pressure rested on Messi’s shoulders to dispatch from 12 yards and the Argentine cold-bloodedly thundered the ball into the corner of the net to bring widespread relief around the Camp Nou.
Leganés never gave up, throwing everything forward in a final attempt to late point. Camp Nou was left with its heart in its mouth as El Zhar unleashed a cracking effort from the edge of the box deep into added time but it flew just wide of the post.
It was an enduring evening, far more than what many had foreseen, but it is nevertheless a crucial three points as Barça continue in the fight for the title.
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