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Lewandowski nets 2, Barcelona goes 15 points clear of Madrid

Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, front, scores his side’s third goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Elche and Barcelona, at the Martinez Valero Stadium in Elche, Spain, on April 1, 2023.

Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski, front, scores his side’s third goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Elche and Barcelona, at the Martinez Valero Stadium in Elche, Spain, on April 1, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

Robert Lewandowski scored twice in Barcelona’s 4-0 win at last-place Elche on Saturday as the Catalan club opened up a 15-point lead atop the standings in pursuit of its first Spanish league title in four years.

Lewandowski opened the scoring in the 20th minute and added Barcelona’s third goal in the 66th to take his league-leading tally to 17 goals in his first season in Spain.

Ansu Fati doubled the lead in the 56th and Ferran Torres rounded off one of Barcelona’s most comfortable victories of the campaign in the 70th.

Barcelona picked right up where it left off before last week’s international break when it beat Madrid 2-1 in the league to deal what is looking like a decisive blow to its rival’s title defense.

Second-place Madrid plays Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Barcelona will try to beat Madrid again on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal match. Barcelona won the first leg 1-0 in the capital.

The goals ended scoring droughts for all three of Barcelona’s forwards. Lewandowski hadn’t scored in five games – three with Barcelona and two with Poland – since his goal against Manchester United in a 2-0 loss in the Europa League on Feb. 23.

Ansu, who struck from outside the area, hadn’t scored since Jan. 19 in the Copa del Rey, while his last goal in the league was in October. Torres hadn’t found the net since scoring twice in Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica in the World Cup in November.

Lewandowski got his first goal after receiving a headed pass by Ronald Araújo in the area when he knocked down a long free kick by Jordi Alba. Lewandowski’s second goal came after Gavi won possession and played the striker clear.

“This is not over and we have to keep going,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “It was a well-rounded night for us and for players who needed to boost their confidence.”

Given the opponent and his team’s commanding league lead, Xavi allowed himself to experiment with his lineup. Little-used central defender Éric García started in a new position for him as the team’s holding midfielder, while regular starter Sergio Busquets stayed on the bench ahead of the “clasico.”

Saturday’s game was the debut of Argentine Sebastián Beccacece as Elche’s fourth coach of the season.

The hosts looked like a team that has only won twice in 27 rounds. Elche finished the game 58 points behind Barcelona — 13 to 71 — and, more importantly, 14 points from safety. It was without first-choice striker Lucas Boyé, who served a one-game suspension.

“We are not stupid. We know that it is going to be very tough and that time is running out,” Elche defender Carlos Clerc said, adding that the team will still fight on for its fans.

WINNING DEBUT

José Luis Mendilibar had a winning debut as Sevilla’s new coach after it beat Cadiz 2-0. Lucas Ocampos and Youssef En-Nesyri scored in the second half.

Mendilibar, 62, has coached several Spanish clubs, with his longest spells in charge of Eibar. He is Sevilla’s third coach of the season after Jorge Sampaoli and Julen Lopetegui both were let go.

NEW CONTRACT

Athletic Bilbao’s Oihan Sancet broke the news to the team’s fans that he had agreed to a long contract extension following its 0-0 draw with Getafe.

Sancet was handed a microphone just moments after the final whistle to make the announcement to the San Mames Stadium.

He agreed to a new deal that will tie the 22-year-old midfielder to the Basque club through 2032. Sancet leads the team with eight goals this season.

“I am thrilled to stay here, and we thought there was no better way to tell my supporters,” Sancet said. “It is a long contract. I am motivated to return the confidence the club has placed in me.”

Also, Cristhian Stuani converted an 88th-minute penalty to give Girona a 2-1 win over Espanyol, which is danger of falling into the relegation zone after four defeats in a row.

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