MADRID (AP) — Robert Lewandowski came to the rescue of Barcelona, scoring twice as the Catalan club rallied to beat Alaves and keep pace with Real Madrid and Girona in the Spanish league.
The 2-1 home victory on Sunday moved Barcelona back within two points of second-place Madrid, which routed Valencia 5-1 on Saturday. Barcelona is four points behind fellow Catalan club Girona, the surprise leader that came from behind to win 2-1 at Rayo Vallecano, also on Saturday.
Barcelona stayed two points in front of Atletico Madrid, which came from behind to defeat Villarreal 3-1 with a goal and an assist by Antoine Griezmann. It was the 15th straight league home win for Atletico, surpassing the run of 14 victories in a row at the Vicente Calderon Stadium between May 2012 and February 2013.
Alaves took the lead in a breakaway one minute into the match in Montjuic after Barcelona midfielder Ilkay Gundogan lost possession near midfield, but Lewandowski helped the hosts rebound with a header in the 53th and a penalty kick in the 78th.
Lewandowski, who was sidelined recently with an injury, hadn't scored in six matches since getting a double in the 3-2 win against Celta Vigo in September.
“We played a bit better, but we are not going through our best moment,” Barcelona coach Xavi said. “We came through in a match that became difficult. The international break will be good for us so we can regroup. We will improve, I'm certain.”
Barcelona was coming off a 1-0 loss at Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage of the Champions League. Two rounds ago it lost 2-1 to Madrid at home in the first “clasico” of the season in the Spanish league. Barcelona then needed a stoppage-time goal to win at Real Sociedad last weekend.
Barcelona extended its unbeaten run against Alaves in the league to 12 league games, with 10 wins and two draws.
Alaves beat last-place Almeria in the previous round to end a seven-game winless streak in the league.
Barcelona remained without injured midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto, and Xavi also couldn’t count on the suspended Gavi.
Pedri, who was coming off an injury, was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the last two matches. Teenager Lamine Yamal also started after being on the bench in the last four matches.
Before the match, Barcelona women's team player Aitana Bonmatí presented the Ballon d'Or trophy she won last month to fans.
Atletico fell behind when Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno scored in the 20th, but the hosts rallied with goals by Axel Witsel in first-half stoppage time, Griezmann in the 80th and Samuel Lino in the 85th.
It was the seventh goal in six matches for Griezmann who, along with Álvaro Morata, is leading an attack that has scored 29 goals in 12 league matches.
Atletico was coming off a 6-0 rout of Celtic at home in the group stage of the Champions League. It is unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions, with 10 wins and two draws. Atletico won all of its six games at home this season, plus the last nine from last season to set the new club record at the Metropolitano stadium.
“It's always a plus to play in front of these fans,” Griezmann said. “They always give us an extra boost.”
The team coached by Diego Simeone, who last week had his contract extended until 2027, has a game in hand as a home match against Sevilla in September was suspended because of bad weather.
It was the seventh league loss for 14th-place Villarreal, which had sports director Miguel Ángel Tena in charge after coach José Rojo Martín, known as “Pacheta,” was fired last week.
Ivan Rakitic scored in the 79th minute to give Sevilla a 1-1 draw with rival Real Betis in the Seville derby.
Ayoze Pérez had put the visitors ahead in the 72nd.
Sevilla, sitting in 13th place, had its winless streak in the league extended to six matches, with five draws in its last five games.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis, in seventh place, had won five in a row in all competitions, including two straight in the Spanish league.
AP soccer: apnews.com/hub/soccer
Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press