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Elche 1-2 Barcelona: Depay penalty seals blaugrana win
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Nicholas McGee
Stats Perform
Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate his goal at Elche
Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate his goal at Elche

Memphis Depay's controversial late penalty ensured Barcelona avoided a setback in their Champions League chase as they came from behind to beat Elche 2-1.

The Blaugrana have been in impressive form since their 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey on January 20, which they avenged with a 4-0 league win last time out.

But ahead of Sunday's meeting between two of their rivals in the race for the Champions League places, Real Betis and Atletico Madrid, Barca looked poised to have to settle for a point.

Elche took the lead in the 44th minute through Fidel, but Ferran Torres ended his much-publicised wait for a league goal on the hour before Depay blasted home emphatically from 12 yards after the VAR adjudged Antonio Barragan to have handled in the area.

It took a heroic piece of defending to prevent Barca from taking the lead in the 27th minute, Diego Gonzalez doing brilliantly to clear Frenkie de Jong's shot off the line.

De Jong was later thwarted again by Edgar Badia's fine save, and his profligacy was punished on the stroke of half-time.

Pedri, in competing for the ball in midfield, inadvertently played a perfect pass to Fidel, who calmly strode into the box and found the bottom-right corner with a composed finish.

However, Elche could only survive 15 second-half minutes before Torres restored parity by sliding in from close range after Jordi Alba diverted Ousmane Dembele's deep cross his way.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen prevented Pere Milla from restoring Elche's lead and Badia was similarly defiant in repelling Torres twice in quick succession.

But Barca were given a lifeline by the video officials, who deemed Barragan guilty of handball in a duel with Depay, allowing the Netherlands international to fire an unstoppable penalty into the top-right corner.

Elche's fury was only heightened when Alba somehow avoided being punished for the same offence from a corner, with unused substitute Javier Pastore seeing red for his protestations.

What does it mean? Fortuitious Barca get what they deserve

It looked very much as if Barragan was attempting to tuck his arm into his side when he was determined to have controlled the ball with his arm, but having pointed to the spot after reviewing that decision, it certainly seemed that referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez had reason to do the same when it struck Alba's arm soon after.

While Elche have grounds to feel aggrieved, Barca's win – which takes them third – was deserved on the balance of play. Their expected goals (xG) tally of 4.2 is the fourth-highest for a team in a single LaLiga game this season. By contrast, Elche finished with an xG of 0.9.

The pressure is firmly on those behind them in the battle for the top four, on which Atletico's trip to Betis will have a massive bearing.

Questions remain for Torres

Torres may finally have broken his LaLiga duck for Barca, but there are still likely to be plenty of questions about his work in front of goal.

Having come on for the ineffective Gavi at half-time, Torres had more shots than any other player on the pitch (six). However, only three hit the target and Torres' xG of 1.9 suggests he should have at least doubled his tally.

Elche pay the penalty

Elche were apoplectic at how the game ended, but they should not be surprised. Since Opta started collecting such data in 2006-07, only three teams in Europe's top five leagues have won more penalties than Barca's 121 (Milan – 142, Real Madrid – 127, Lazio – 126)

What's next?

Barca have the insurance policy of potentially sealing Champions League football through the Europa League, in which they face Galatasaray in the last 16 on Thursday before then hosting Osasuna in LaLiga on Sunday. Elche next visit Granada a day earlier.


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