Substitute Riqui Puig struck at the death as Barcelona left it late to secure a fifth-successive La Liga win on the road as they were made to work hard for the points at lowly Elche.
Frenkie de Jong’s 39th-minute opener was all that separated the sides as the clock ticked down towards the final minute of the 90 at the Martinez Valero Stadium before Puig headed home the Netherlands midfielder’s cross to seal a 2-0 victory.
Elche kept themselves in it to the death thanks in large part to a string of fine saves by goalkeeper Edgar Badia, who denied substitute Trincao twice inside the final seven minutes.
Victory lifted the Catalan side above Sevilla into third place, three points adrift of arch-rivals Real Madrid in second, but still seven adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid ahead of their evening kick-off against Valencia.
The visitors started in determined fashion and defender Ronald Araujo headed over from Ousmane Dembele’s corner before the same man fed Antoine Griezmann and saw him force a 12th-minute save from Badia.
Elche responded with Raul Guti heading Johan Mojica’s delivery over from close range eight minutes later, but it was Barca who continued to press and Badia had to field Sergio Busquets’ attempt from distance 11 minutes before the break.
The breakthrough finally arrived six minutes before half-time when defender Diego Gonzalez’s effort to prevent Martin Braithwaite’s cross reaching Griezmann only succeeded in setting up De Jong to tap home on the line.
Elche midfielder Josan called upon goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make his first save of note seconds later, but Ronald Koeman’s side went in at the break with the slightest of advantages.
Guti and Emiliano Rigoni both went close as Elche attempted to drag themselves back into the game immediately after the break with Ter Stegen needing to be at his best to prevent the latter from making the most of a defensive slip.
However, Badia had to keep out Dembele’s 56th-minute effort and was stretched further by Pedri’s deflected strike 11 minutes later with Barca looking to wrap up the points.
Trincao forced another vital stop from the ‘keeper with seven minutes remaining and then kept out his 87th-minute header to keep the home side in the hunt, but there was nothing he could do to repel fellow substitute Puig’s header at the death.
Meanwhile, Joao Felix and Luis Suarez combined to devastating effect as Atletico Madrid came from behind to beat Valencia 3-1 at home on Sunday to continue their relentless pursuit of the La Liga title.
Valencia took a shock lead in the 11th minute with an unstoppable long-range strike from Serbian midfielder Uros Racic but the league leaders responded in the 23rd when Felix stuck out a foot to prod home from a corner.
The Portugal forward then latched on to a through ball to launch a quick counter-attack early in the second half and released Suarez, who took a couple of touches before striking in off the far post from a tight angle.
Substitute Angel Correa then finished off a fine move from Marcos Llorente in the 72nd minute to clinch a seventh league win in a row for Diego Simeone’s side, who lead nearest challengers Real Madrid by seven points with a game in hand.
Bundesliga: Bayern seven points clear
Champions Bayern Munich opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the Bundesliga after dishing out a 4-0 thrashing at bottom club Schalke 04 helped by a Thomas Muller double on Sunday.
Muller scored with two headers, starting the scoring after 33 minutes and again in the 88th after league top scorer Robert Lewandowski hit his 23rd of the campaign in the 54th.
David Alaba’s long-range effort in the 90th minute capped a comfortable evening for the Bavarians.
With title rivals RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund all losing this weekend, Bayern remain firmly on course for a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title.
“I am not totally satisfied,” said Bayern coach Hansi Flick. “Yes, we scored four goals but I could see that at times we could improve our possession game.”
“We sometimes play too fast, sometimes too slow, sometimes with too much risk. There is lost possession which we can avoid.”
“But overall I am happy with the nine points this week. Today we used the assist delivered by our rivals.”
After 18 games, the Munich side have 42 points with second-placed Leipzig on 35. Leverkusen and Wolfsburg both have 32.
Serie A: Juve back on track
Juventus got their Serie A title defence back on track with a hard-fought 2-0 home win over Bologna on Sunday that moved Andrea Pirlo’s side into the top four.
Arthur Melo scored his first goal for the Turin club in the first half with a deflected strike and Weston McKennie headed home the second after 71 minutes.
Bologna goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski made some stunning saves to keep his side in the match and the visitors also had good chances in an entertaining encounter at the Allianz Stadium.
It was a much-needed victory for Pirlo’s side following the disappointment of their 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan last weekend as it cut the gap behind league leaders AC Milan to seven points and the champions also have a game in hand.
Juventus are fourth with 36 points from 18 games, one point behind AS Roma in third. Bologna are 13th with 20 points.
Ligue 1: Lyon thrash St Etienne
Lyon stayed hot on the heels of Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain and second-placed Lille when they claimed a resounding 5-0 win at a COVID-19 depleted St Etienne on Sunday.
Tino Kadewere and Marcelo both scored twice, with Denis Bouanga scoring a late own goal, to put third-placed Lyon on 43 points from 21 games, two behind PSG and Lille.
St Etienne, who were missing 10 players who tested positive for COVID-19, are left in 16th place on 19 points.
Earlier, Lille beat Stade Rennais 1-0 courtesy of a Jonathan David goal and PSG thrashed Montpellier 4-0 on Friday.