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Suárez to fore as unconvincing Barça beat Las Palmas

The Uruguayan opened the scoring and had a big hand in the second as Barcelona struggled to a win that leaves them provisionally nine points clear in La Liga.

LAS PALMAS, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 20:  Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's opening goal during the La Liga match between UD Las Palmas and FC Barcelona at Estadio Gran Canaria on February 20, 2016 in Las Palmas, Spain.
Denis DoyleGetty Images

Barcelona came away with the best possible return from the worst possible performance. If Luis Enrique's men are capable of winning whenever they play as poorly as they did at the Estadio Gran Canaria on Saturday, in a 2-1 victory that saw them put further pressure on their immediate pursuers at the top of the La Liga table, then they really are in the driving seat for the title.

There is plenty of talk of Barça's trio up front of Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, the individuals who take centre stage in delivering Los Azulgranas' successes. But there is less talk about the essence of the side's game, which is underpinned by being tactically balanced, closing down the spaces, pressing the ball and showing their ability to bring it out from the back.

At Las Palmas, Enrique forgot all about that - and looked to win the match purely with the attacking bite of the 'MSN', opting to leave out Gerard Piqué and making do without the suspended Sergio Busquets. They are the true fulcrum of the team. The forward three can be decisive all on their own, but they're far more comfortable when all the cogs are in place and whirring away. And when the two youth products are there to associate with Andrés Iniesta, they whirr away with metronomic efficiency.

With no Piqué or Busquets (or Ivan Rakitic to begin with), Barcelona found themselves left in a fight with a UD Las Palmas outfit who gave as good as they got in the possession stakes and, despite missing a number of regulars, had the league leaders looking anxiously at the clock in the final minutes.

It's for clashes such as this that the Catalans signed Suárez, an utter bulldozer in the area with the gift of self-sufficiency when forced to fend in less fertile conditions. The Uruguayan is an indomitable warrior who, when the rest of the horses have sloped off to graze in the meadow, pulls the cart along all by himself. For him there is no opposition too small, no game to small, no ground too small. That's what makes him such a huge player. He might miss gilt-edged chances; but he comes straight back for more, and seeks out the net as if his wage depended on his next strike.

Suárez's faith is what enabled Barça to come through one of the most dangerous encounters that they've experienced in La Liga this season. The club's history books are full of affairs such as this - affairs that ended in a negative result, because those teams did not have the ex-Liverpool man in their ranks.

The 29-year-old put the Camp Nou side ahead in the sixth minute when he buried a low cross from Jordi Alba, who was a much more positive influence in attack than he was in defence. The opener from the Spanish top flight's leading scorer should have settled it there and then.

However, Las Palmas quickly demonstrated that their coach, Quique Setién, has given them a real footballing backbone. Willian José equalised just three minutes later, and the going began to get decidedly tough for Barça.

The visitors had their chances, but it quickly became clear that too many of their number were far from at their sharpest. They lacked the tempo that Piqué and Busquets bring to the play. Sergi Roberto tried every which way he could but struggled to locate allies to link up with, Arda Turan looked lost, and any help from Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano had the opposite effect.

Before the break, another surge of solo brilliance from Suárez saw him burst to the byline, before his cross - via Messi's initial shot, excellently kept out by keeper Javi Varas - enabled Neymar to paper over the cracks of his own mediocre display with the winning goal.

From there, Barça sweated it out all the way to the end as they waited for a chance to clinch the points on the counter, against a Las Palmas who played the better football. They could have sealed it with attempts from Suárez and Neymar, but Varas proved in exceptional form. Unable to find that decisive blow, Luis Enrique's side were ultimately left nervously awaiting the final whistle.

The Asturian has got his team winning even when they don't play well. And in such circumstances, you can't see them letting the title slip.


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