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Barcelona keep pace at the top as Ilkay Gündogan scores late

Ilkay Gündogan celebrates 93rd minute penalty

Ilkay Gündogan celebrates 93rd minute penalty for Barcelona

Barcelona began the new year with a crucial victory, but it wasn’t easy as the Blaugrana had to wait until the dying moments to emerge as 2-1 winners from a tough battle against Las Palmas at the Gran Canaria Stadium on Thursday night. Barça were outplayed and fell behind in the first half but showed great team spirit to come back in the second half, with Ilkay Gündogan playing the part of late hero to give his team three massive points that send Barça to third place in the La Liga table.

FIRST HALF

The opening 10 minutes were a disaster for Barça, who lost one of their best players in João Cancelo to what appeared to be a knee injury, and conceded a goal after Las Palmas managed to easily pass their way through the Blaugrana defense and two former Barça players combined to put them behind as Sandro Ramírez’s cross was tapped home by Munir El-Haddadi to give the home team the lead.

The disaster start forced Barça to play with more desperation, and the Blaugrana tried to apply their gameplan of playing long balls in behind Las Palmas’ high line to create chances. They came very close several times to find a golden opportunity, but several offside calls and a few bad decisions in the final third kept the visitors from scoring an equalizer.

Las Palmas were clearly very well drilled to play an offside trap and frustrate Barça, and their plan worked perfectly for the rest of the period. At halftime Barça were behind and not even close to creating a real chance, and they needed a ton of improvement to make a second half comeback.

SECOND HALF

Barça were much better in the second half, moving the ball quicker and timing the runs better to avoid the offside trap and find spaces in behind Las Palmas’ high line. The Blaugrana looked and felt more dangerous, and they equalized just 10 minutes into the period when a Barça corner was not properly cleared by the home team and Ferran Torres took advantage and found the net to make it 1-1 with a lot of game still left to play.

 Ferran-Torres-Frenkie-De-Jong-Sergi-Roberto for Barcelona

Xavi Hernández went to his bench looking for an answer that would deliver the winning goal, including the debut of Vitor Roque who came on and showed a lot of energy and intensity as he tried to make an instant impact.

But the clock continued to tick without Barça finding a breakthrough, until another substitute, João Félix, had his shot saved by the keeper and Ilkay Gündogan was all alone at the far post to head the rebound home. But he was pushed in the back by Daley Sinkgraven before having a chance to score, and the Las Palmas defender was shown a straight red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Gündogan stepped up himself and scored from the spot, giving Barça a crucial lead that they would hold in the dying moments. Vitor Roque missed a massive chance to score on his debut and kill the game for good, but the Blaugrana were still the winners when the final whistle came.

The first half wasn’t pretty, but the second half response was impressive  ensuring the Catalan giants remain within striking distance of LaLiga’s pacesetters.

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