Elche 0-2 Barcelona: De Jong the driving force in win without Messi

Koeman's side scored a goal in each half to make it nine unbeaten in La Liga

Jordi Gil

Frenkie de Jong and Riqui Puig were on target as Barcelona won 2-0 at Elche on Sunday to return to third in the league. 

De Jong tapped home on the line in the first half to open the scoring and then set up Puig in the final minute of the game to seal the three points. 

Barca are still seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand, starting with Valencia later on Sunday, but are now nine games unbeaten in the league. 

Ronald Koeman's side were without the suspended Lionel Messi for the trip to Elche and struggled to create chances in the first half. 

Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets tried their luck from distance but the home side weren't really troubled until the opening goal arrived in the 39th minute. 

Martin Braithwaite's cross was turned towards his own goal by Diego Gonzalez and Frenkie de Jong burst a gut to get forward and get the final touch. 

Elche chances were few and far between but they had a big one after the break. Oscar Mingueza's error was capitalised on by Emiliano Rigoni but he was denied by the brilliant Marc-Andre ter Stegen. 

Back at the other end, Edgar Badia saved from the lively Ousmane Dembele and then twice from substitute Francisco Trincao as the game remained delicately poised heading towards stoppage time. 

However, any hopes Elche had of earning a point were blunted in the final minute when De Jong drove forward and clipped a cross to the far post for Puig to head home. 

It was Puig's first-ever goal for the senior side and came after he scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Real Sociedad in the Spanish Supercopa semifinal 10 days ago. 

The young midfielder will hope his cameos will earn him more minutes moving forward as Barça continue their pursuit of Atletico at the top.

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