Lewandowski strike earns Barca narrow win at Mallorca

Elsewhere Mbappe comes off the bench to steer PSG to victory.

Image: Francisco Ubilla

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI’S LETHAL finish sent Barcelona provisionally top of La Liga with a tight 1-0 win at Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the top-flight and, along with Lewandowski’s brilliantly taken strike in the 20th minute, it was enough to put Barcelona one point clear of Real Madrid, who host Osasuna on Sunday.

With a tightened defence and Lewandowski in supreme form up front, Xavi Hernandez’s side are ironing out the creases which caused them so many problems last season.

Xavi deployed young left-back Alejandro Balde out of position on the right side of his defence because of injuries to Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde and Hector Bellerin, and brought Ansu Fati into the starting line-up.

It was the 19-year-old’s first start in La Liga since November 2021, after a string of injury problems, and his burst forward contributed to Barcelona’s opening goal.

The winger, left out of Luis Enrique’s most recent Spain squad and desperate to impress to try and get the call-up for the World Cup, fed Lewandowski, who cut inside and finished clinically after 20 minutes.

The Poland forward, the division’s top goalscorer, netted his ninth league goal with a perfectly-placed, curling finish into the bottom-right corner, through a gap that only he could see.

Mallorca should have levelled 15 minutes later but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a superb save to deny Jaume Costa from close range.

Barcelona struggled to create more openings and the game threatened to boil over, with Andreas Christensen, Gerard Pique and Franck Kessie all booked in a short spell before half-time, while Xavi’s assistant and brother, Oscar Hernandez, was shown a red card for apparent dissent.

Mallorca continued to frustrate the Catalans after the break, although Lewandowski nearly caught out goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic, chasing him down outside the box to try and win the ball back.

At the other end ter Stegen, who has started this season in top form after a disappointing campaign last time around, was called on again to tip away a cross-shot from Antonio Sanchez.

The German beat his own personal record in La Liga for minutes without conceding a goal, on the way to securing his sixth clean sheet in seven league games.

Pedri’s introduction from the bench brought some calm back to Barcelona’s game in the final 20 minutes and helped them keep the stubborn hosts at arm’s length in the final stages.

Kang-in Lee sent a shot agonisingly wide of the far post as Mallorca tried to hit Barcelona on the counter, but Javier Aguirre’s side could not find a way through.

In previous seasons Barcelona might have caved, but Xavi’s side are starting to prove their fortitude.

MEANWHILE, Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to score the winning goal as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Nice 2-1 on Saturday to reclaim top spot in Ligue 1.

Gavin Cooney
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French international Mbappe was left out of the starting line-up by coach Christophe Galtier with one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Benfica.

That is one of 11 fixtures the French champions face in the six weeks leading up to the World Cup.

Mbappe was replaced by 20-year-old Hugo Ekitike, who was making his first start for PSG.

However, it was fellow superstar Lionel Messi who grabbed the early attention when he gave PSG a 29th-minute lead with a sumptuous, curling free-kick which sailed over the Nice wall and past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Gaetan Laborde levelled for Nice, who were coached by Galtier until this season, in the 47th minute after PSG got into a terrible defensive tangle.

Mbappe was summoned from the bench on the hour mark and struck the winner with seven minutes left after Nice attempted and failed to play the ball out of defence.

The goal was Mbappe’s eighth of the league season and took him level with teammate Neymar at the top of the scoring charts.

PSG have a two-point lead over Marseille who defeated Angers 3-0 on Friday.

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