Barça draw but take another step toward title

Barcelona are now just two wins away from a seventh La Liga title in 10 years, but they had to make do with one point at Celta Vigo as Iago Aspas scored late on with his hand to earn his side a deserved 2-2 draw.

Goals from Ousmane Dembele and Paco Alcacer sandwiched a Jonny Castro strike and had Barca on track for a first league win at Balaidos since 2015. But they were unable to hang on to the three points, with the brilliant Aspas scoring a controversial 82nd-minute equaliser after Sergi Roberto had been sent off.

A draw was not the worst outcome for a Barca side that made nine changes from the weekend’s win over Valencia. They stretch their unbeaten run in the league to 40 games and move 12 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid. They now need just six points from their final five games to sew up their 25th La Liga crown.

Ernesto Valverde responded to the criticism about his management of the squad in the wake of last week’s Champions League elimination by making wholesale changes. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were among the players left on the bench in Vigo.

Paulinho headed wide early on for Barca and Denis Suarez was off target but Celta soon established themselves in the game. Marc-Andre ter Stegen made one brilliant save from Maxi Gomez and Yerry Mina blocked from the same player. Brais Mendez then brought another brilliant stop out of Ter Stegen as the pressure grew.

But it was Barca who took the lead. Philippe Coutinho pounced on a loose ball and Alcacer’s centre was brilliantly slammed home by Dembele on the bounce, his first league goal since joining the club last summer.

The lead lasted less than 10 minutes. Celta were level by the break through Jonny, who slotted home Gomez’s cross. They should have been ahead after the break, too. Jozabed curled wide when one-on-one with Ter Stegen and Pione Sisto struck straight at the German goalkeeper.

Once again, Celta paid for their profligacy. Messi and Sergi Roberto were brought on after an hour and the tide swung in Barca’s favour. They had the lead again when Nelson Semedo and Dembele combined to set up Paulinho, whose shot was pushed over the line by Alcacer.

Still, Celta came, though, and always through Aspas. Sergi Roberto tugged down the striker when he raced clean through in the 70th minute and was rightly given his marching orders as a result. That was the only way Barca could stop Aspas, though, and he eventually scored a deserved equaliser, turning home an Emre Mor cross with the help of his hand.

Celta could have won it, too. Aspas — who else? — produced a sensational pass for Lucas Boye, but he was denied by Ter Stegen as Barca kept their hopes of an unbeaten season alive. Just.

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