Football

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique: La Liga title race is on

Defender expects Barca to challenge La Liga leaders Atletico, after dominant win over Sevilla

Forwards Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi fired Barcelona to a confidence-boosting 2-0 win at in-form Sevilla on Saturday to keep the pressure on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Dembele latched on to a through-ball from Messi and knocked it through the legs of Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to give Barca a deserved lead in the 29th minute after dominating the first half and barely giving their hosts a hint of a chance.

Sevilla improved after the break, but Barca continued to have the edge and found a second goal five minutes from time when Messi played a one-two with teenage midfielder Ilaix Moriba and netted with a scrappy finish after his first effort was saved.

The result ended a six-game winning streak in the league for Sevilla, who remained fourth in the standings on 48 points, while Barca climbed above Real Madrid into second place with 53 points, two behind Atletico, who faced Villarreal this morning.

Defender Gerard Pique felt that the win has put Barca back on course for a title push and also praised his side for putting their 4-1 Champions League drubbing by Paris Saint-Germain and a shock 1-1 draw with Cadiz behind them.

"I'm so proud of the team. We have had some big setbacks recently, but we have bounced back and today we showed that we're still very much alive," the 34-year-old said.

"We have a great squad that is good enough to compete with anyone...

"The title race is on, we have come back from far worse situations before."

Barca coach Ronald Koeman got his tactics spot on against Julen Lopetegui's side, lining up with a 3-5-2 formation he has used on special occasions this season.

SEVILLA RESTRICTED

The shape gave the Catalan side extra width but, above all, helped limit Sevilla's ability to counter-attack and they barely managed to trouble goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

"This was a complete performance from us," said Koeman.

"The most important thing today was our ambition, our fighting spirit and that we pressed as an entire team. We had the mentality to press them for 95 minutes, and that was the key thing."

Sevilla can avenge the defeat on Thursday morning (Singapore time) when they head to the Nou Camp for a Copa del Rey semi-final second leg with a 2-0 lead in the tie.

Barca are likely to be without defender Ronald Araujo for the second leg after he made his return from injury off the bench but had to be taken off with an ankle problem 15 minutes later.

Meanwhile, Valencia have a relegation battle on their hands, after a 3-0 defeat at Getafe left them five points above La Liga's drop zone. - REUTERS

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