Goals from Dembélé, Suárez and Messi sealed the three points at the Camp Nou but Valverde has much to ponder.
Barcelona vs Leganés: match report
Three points. Three goals. Dembélé and Aleña impressed again. There was much for Ernesto Valverde to be happy about after Barça's 3-1 win over Leganés. Everything did not go to plan, however, in what was a far from convincing night's work for LaLiga's pace setters.
The tempo of the first half was set, unsurprisingly by the home side. Without creating many clear cut chances, the lads in blaugrana had well over two-thirds of the possession and tried to work their way through a hard-working, defensively-minded opponent. In the absence of Lionel Messi - who had been rested to the bench - much of the onus was on Coutinho and Dembélé to make things happen in the final third. The Frenchman's frightening pace had the blue and white shirts gathering in numbers, crowding him out more than cleanly tackling. It worked most of time.
As the half entered into its final 15 minutes, the defence would be unlocked. The French winger ran across the edge of the Leganés box before heading into the danger area. By then he'd already laid off the ball, and when Alba then played it back across he sorted out his body to direct the ball perfectly in-off the far post. A lovely goal, and one that took them into the break ahead and suggested this side could live without their number 10.
The second half saw an immediate spark of life from the visitors and they were rewarded, still against the general run of play, with a neatly worked goal for loanee, Martin Braithwaite. With half an hour remaining, Valverde wasted no time: bring on the saviour. And so he proved to be, although it also coincided with Dembélé being taken off injured and possibly out of action.
Creating a shooting chance for himself that brought out an excellent save from Cuellar allowed Suárez to nip in a touch home the rebound. By the letter of the law many would argue that he endangered the goalkeeper and it should have been chalked off, but it stood. Messi then made sure of the result, finishing off another cutback from Jordi Alba, something we've seen countless times over the years. And that was that.
Positives there were, and concerns there were too. Depending on the tint of your spectacles, you'll choose which to focus on more.
Barcelona vs Leganés: minute-by-minute
Thank you for joining us tonight and we look forward to seeing you again soon here on AS English live...
Barcelona go five points clear at the top of LaLiga after a mixed night at the Camp Nou. Some positive performances for Valverde to point to, but also some areas that may concern him if they are to compete on all fronts for the rest of this season. The one narrative that many will point to is not new, and don't be surprised to see some cutting headlines around Messi-dependencia. There's no doubt his introduction at 1-1 made a difference.
Full-time | Barcelona 3-1 Leganés
90'+7' Peep, peep, peeeeeeeeep!! Game over.
90'+7' Barça seeing this game out with more and more chances being fashioned. Suárez gets a shot away from the pull back on the left but Cuellar dives down low and saves. That may be the last action we see.
90'+5' Malcom tries to play in Rakitic as the hosts look for some icing but the pass is weak and easily intercepted. Rakitic does brilliantly, though, recovers the ball and makes it round the defender to the byline. His low cross then blocked.
Barça 3-1 Leganés | Messi plays it through the inside left channel to the scampering Alba. The Spaniard rolls it back into the path of his teammate who has immediately moved to where he knew he needed to be, and rifles home. Class!
90'+2' Gooooaaaaaaallll!!!! Messi ensures the three points stay at the Camp Nou
90' Seven minutes! Plenty time for more drama...and Valverde doesn't like it
89' A couple of free-kicks given away in the middle of the park by Leganés player as they press to win back the ball in the final stages. Now we wait to see how many minutes will be added on after those earlier stoppages.
86' Vesga is replaced by Eraso as Pelligrino throws the dice for the last time.
84' Oscar's ball into the area is perfect for the run of Santos but his control in front of Ter Stegen lets him down. Will they get many more? El Zhar on for Oscar.
81' Without wanting to sound like an over-played record, Messi's introduction has just upped the level in this Barça team. He draws opposition players to him, creates space for others, and rarely gives the ball away wastefully.
78' Chance...and afters!! Suárez and Alba combine from a long pass forward from Messi, ending with a shot from the striker straight into Cuellar's arms. As the keeper runs out to start a move, he makes a point of bumping into the man who nearly took his head off minutes earlier. The Barça man makes sure everyone is aware of the contact by throwing himself to the ground. Ref says 'on you go!'
75' Play is restarted after some treatment to Cuellar. Suárez is not making new friends out there with his opponents, arguing with anyone who fancies it.
The Argentine skips passed the defender, cutting across the outside of the area to the left. Another touch to set himself and then ping! Cuellar saves high to his right but Suárez beat him to the dropping rebound and taps home. The defenders immediately surround the ref claiming it was dangerous play from the mild-mannered Uruguayan as he knees their keeper in the head. I, for one, agree. But VAR not used.
71' Gooooaaaaalllll!! Suárez finishes it off but it's all Messi's making.
69' Some of the natives are getting restless...but they have their main man to save them so they can relax.
68' Big claims from the crowd for an elbow on Messi. Ref says no.
66' Two Barça subs: Rakitic for Arthur and Malcom for the injured Dembélé.
66' An interesting part of that moment was that Barça continued to play the ball for around a minute while their player lay on the field. Then they request that Leganés play the ball out (which they do) when they win it back. Poor.
65' Dembélé in trouble here. He tries to turn away from the closing player and as his right foot slips on the turf, he appears to sit down on his left ankle. That looked very sore.
63' Here comes Messi. Young Aleñá making way after a very decent outing.
61' Free-kick is hit hard but Barça's big German is behind it and safe. Oh, who's that lad tying up his laces?
60' Sergi Roberto now into the book after pulling back the breaking Braithwaite. Covering defenders remove the need for a red, just.
59' Barça immediately look to get back on top but the visitors shut up shop well. Dembélé does get a shot away but it's wide.
Great run out on the right by Youssef En Nesyri who fires the ball across the six-yard area between Ter Stegen and back-tracking defenders. The big Dane fires home. Game on!
57' Goooaaaaalll!! Leganés are level through Braithwaite.
56' Suárez has a hit from outside the area, well wide.
55' Great skill again from Dembélé who leaves Silva for dead with a type of Cruyff turn. Doesn't then make anything out of it.
52' Barça now win a corner and Coutinho drifts it into the area. It's well cleared and Leganés need to refind that little taste of rhythm they started this half with. Aleña into the book for a foul.
50' The dead ball finds Pique in the six-yard area but the big defender can't keep it down.
49' Free-kick awarded to Barça by the assistant on the far side who judges that Silva tugged Sergi Roberto back. From here it looked like he just outmuscled him, got his body in front and won it well.
48' Chance!! Coutinho has another effort after Dembélé's backheel somehow finds him. High, wide and disappointing.
47' Another ball swung in from the left by Silva. Looks dangerous but Ter Stegen collects well.
46' An early chance for Leganés to create something. Good covering from Pique ensures nothing comes from it.
Barça get the second half going
Right, the teams are heading out...
On the other hand, some of the play has been sloppy, the possession has not led to many clear chances. More can definitely come in the second half, especially if Leganés fail to materialise as an attacking force.
Barça have enjoyed over 70% possession, and with the other 30% they were hardly put under pressure. Ter Stegen's most challenging moments have come from his own teammates' passbacks! They've had six shots at goal compared to the single one from their opponents. Aleña's been bright, and Dembélé even brighter, culminating in an excellently taken goal.
Valverde will be relatively pleased with that first half, although it was far from vintage Barça. First the positives...
45' Half time! Barcelona 1-0 Leganés
45' Late chance for Leganés to create something but again the ball in from the right is painfully not reaching its intended target. Very disappointing.
44' Leganés are getting pulled out of position far too easily, and there Dembélé is played into space on the right wing. His ball across the area is met by Coutinho who...well, sclaffs it wide. Not the finish of a top player.
41' What's going on there? Suárez through on goal, Cuellar touches him but the striker tries to stay up and collect the ball to score. As he realises he can't stop the ball running out of play he throws himself to the floor. Ref says play on, then checks with VAR. Play on it is.
39' Screams around the Camp Nou for a free-kick on the edge of the Leganés penalty box. Dembélé fancies it tonight and runs at a terrified set of players in blue and white. It's around the fourth challenge before they can stop the winger, who seems to just fall over with exhaustion.
37' Coutinho tries to dance his way into the Leganés area but has too many defenders in his way. What can Pellegrini do to change the flow here?
35' There's a different atmosphere here - both on and off the pitch - following that goal. The nervous 'can we perform without our main man?' sensation has been settled for the moment, and there's an extra swagger.
Barça 1-0 Leganés | After working the ball across the edge of the area and out to Jordi Alba on the left, the Frenchman gets himself to around the penalty spot. As the ball is fired in from his teammate, he opens his body and strokes it home with his right boot. Cuellar had no chance as the ball nestles in-off the far post. Lovely finish!
32' Goooaaaall!!! Dembéle starts and finishes the move.
29' Great break down the right by Nyorm but, just as options look promising, the cross is awful. Barça then break and Dembélé is encouraged by Suárez to stretch his legs. Cuellar beats him to it though the game is brought back for a foul in the centre of the pitch. Omeruo booked.
28' Leganés enjoy some possession in the middle of the park but once they eventually aim to move into the final third, they offer no threat and give the ball back to the dominant hosts.
25' Aleña again with brilliant feet. His style very reminiscent of Coutinho as he skips passed players. The crosses that have come from wide have been generally poor, and that was another after the youngster had laid off into space.
24' Suárez lets fly!!! It's still rising.
21' A lazy pass into the midfield from Dembélé is intercepted but it's a poor attempt at a counter attack from the visitors. The ball forward to Braithwaite was never going to find its man, and Barça mop up. Tarin booked.
19' A number of loose, hopeful balls forward from the blaugrana are proving a little frustrating for the crowd. Coutinho is getting on the ball more, and is clearly capable of opening up defences, but is yet to really strike at the heart of the opposition defence.
16' A little 'how you doin?' moment there as an overhit pass gives Cuellar the chance to chest himself into the standing Suárez. Not by accident, but no raging protest from the Uruguayan.
15' The home side are very happy to knock the ball aorund the back and through the midfield looking for opportunities. Aleña always tidy on the ball.
13' Rare break from the visitors sees a dangerous cross swung in low from the left. Vermaelen does well to get to it first, and ensures it makes its way safely out of the area.
12' It's the flying Frenchman who's catching the eye so far. Busquets picks up a booking, ref keen on being involved.
9' CHANCE! Brilliant run from Dembélé. His first touch knocks the ball into space down the line, a ball he's always going to reach before the turning defender. He then pushes it ahead of the covering player, again gets there first, where he cuts it back. Leganés block it but it falls to Coutinho who shapes, then has his shot deflected over. Braithwaite booked.
7' Dembélé shows his keeper how it's done. One nutmeg, then looks for another, as he gets into his stride. The run is snuffed out though.
6' Ter Stegen shows his skills with his feet. Controlling a firm back pass, turning cleverly away from the pressing attacker, and then hitting a pass straight into the crowd. Oh!
4' A long diagonal switches the play from Barça's left back to that of the visitors. It's too much of a stretch though and play Cuellar takes his time to get things restarted with his goalkick.
2' Leganés now have a free-kick just inside the Barça half and choose to send the ball into the mixer. The danger is cleared and Barça then look to build again.
1' Barça immediately work the ball back from the left to Ter Stegen who then feeds it out to the right. A foul gives them an early pause.
The whistle blows...
Many eyes will be on the front three of Barça, and if they can combine. We're about to go...
There have been a number of games in which Barcelona have really missed the influence of Messi this season, but it is Valverde's idea that he needs to be clever about when to rest him in the second half of the seaosn: "The fixture list is tough, we know this month is tough. We'll have to make some changes and look at certain situations. We need to be smart when rotating." Let's see if the SOS is sent out in the second half...
Leganés do start with Óscar Rodríguez, one of the scorers in September's reverse fixture, however the other menace in Butarque, El Zhar will take his place on the bench. Middlesbrough loanee, Denmark's Martin Braithwaite, takes the striking spot from the injured Guido Carrillo
A quick scan around social media has suggested that there are a few nervy Barça fans out there after seeing the starting line-up. Others though point to an exciting rotation of players, and the prospect of seeing young Aleña again. A lot of talent in them there boots.
So, not exactly as we predicted. Talisman Lionel Messi will not be featuring and that means space in the XI for both Coutinho and Dembélé. We also see Vermaelen and Aleña start for Valverde's side: just the 12 years separating their ages (33 and 21 respectively).
We have the team news for you. First up, hosts Barcelona...
Leganés may have proved themselves difficult to beat over recent months but winning on their travels has not been their specialty. In their last 25 away from home they have only won once. In their last eight, they've only managed to score in two. Not the sort of form that should have the reigning champions trembling.
Barcelona may not have been at their impressive best all this season, but have won their last six on the bounce in the league, and still have high hopes of collecting at least two of the three competitions they remain in.
This game comes in the middle of two Copa del Rey games for Barcelona, coming past Levante in the second leg on Thursday, taking them into a quarter final with Sevilla this coming Wednesday. Leganés did notch up a win against Real Madrid in their last run out although it wasn't enough to take them through to the next round. Their focus is clearly on league position.
Hello and welcome to this evening's LaLiga Santander match, which we will bring you live from the Camp Nou as Barcelona welcome Leganés.
Barcelona vs Leganés: match preview
With important wins for both Atlético and Real Madrid (who sit second and third in the table respectively) this weekend, LaLiga Santander leaders Barcelona will be conscious that any slip up on their behalf could change the narrative somewhat. With tonight's game in hand on their closest rivals, they have the opportunity to extend the gap at the top to five points, but will know that it was Leganés who ran out the victors in the early meeting of these sides in Butarque.
Barcelona team news
Ernesto Valverde will be more than aware that his side are not firing on all cylinders week in, week out, and cannot take any game lightly. In saying that, a win in front of their home fans tonight will see a seventh consecutive league victory, on the back of an impressive qualification into the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey. It will be interesting to see if Philippe Coutinho gets hte nod over normally-preferred Ousmane Dembele to partner Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi up front. With no new injuries to worry about, the manager will have his pick ahead of Sevilla on Wednesday.
Leganés team news
With several players out injured or doubtful for tonight, Mauricio Pellegrino will have to turn to some of his fringe members. Martin Braithwaite will likely take the place of Guido Carrillo in attack, while Gerard Gumbau may come in for Ruben Perez if he is unable to line-up. Fighting for a comfortable mid-table spot, Leganés will aim to make things difficult for their illustrious hosts, and having suffered only two losses in their last 13 games, will come with some confidence.