Lewandowski hits brace in Barca cruise, Sevilla earn crucial win
ELCHE - Robert Lewandowski struck twice as Barcelona moved 15 points clear at the top of La Liga with a comfortable 4-0 win at Elche on Saturday.
Earlier Lucas Ocampos and Youssef En-Nesyri struck to earn new Sevilla coach Jose Luis Mendilibar a crucial 2-0 victory over relegation rivals Cadiz in his first game in charge.
Barca's Polish forward Lewandowski has endured a small dip in form recently but was back to his lethal best to continue the Catalans' procession towards their first title since 2019.
Ansu Fati also scored for the first time since October in the league and Ferran Torres rounded out the comfortable win, as Xavi was able to start some reserve players ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey semi-final clash with Real Madrid.
Elche, playing under new coach Sebastian Beccacece for the first time, are bottom of the table and never seemed likely to trouble the runaway league leaders. Champions Madrid, second, host Real Valladolid on Sunday.
"We'll see what Madrid do tomorrow, (but) if we win our games, we will be champions," Eric Garcia told Movistar.
"The coach told us all at the start of the season, everyone is important.
"We have an important game on Wednesday and he was able to rest some players."
Barca coach Xavi took the chance to experiment by deploying Garcia in Sergio Busquets' usual pivot role, and made several other changes to his usual side.
Torres and Fati started on the flanks, the latter having made headlines this week after his father complained about the Barca number 10's lack of minutes.
"(Goals) always give confidence to the forwards, today it went perfectly," Xavi told Movistar.
"Two goals for Robert, one for Ferran, one for Ansu, and Ansu's work -- he ended up exhausted, that's the truth.
"Aside from the goal, that is very positive for him and his confidence, how he worked for the team, it's really important for me, and the goal is a consequence of his work and his talent.
"I'm especially happy for Ferran, Ansu, the players that maybe deserved goals, today they scored."
Lewandowski broke the deadlock after 20 minutes with his first goal in four league matches, scuffing a finish into the ground, with the ball looping over a defender and into the net.
The Polish international and the top goalscorer in the league grabbed his 16th and 17th strikes of the campaign -- he has 27 across all competitions.
Barcelona should have increased their lead in the first half but Lewandowski nodded over and Jules Kounde had an effort cleared off the line.
Gavi pulled the strings and Garcia was solid in midfield as Barca secured a 20th clean sheet of the season in the top flight.
Fati stretched Barcelona's advantage 10 minutes into the second half, driving forward from the halfway line and drilling into the bottom corner.
Lewandowski pounced again after Gavi won the ball back for the third and then set up Torres, who drifted inside and slotted home the fourth.
Xavi handed midfielder Aleix Garrido, 19, his debut in the final stages.
Elche are 14 points from safety with 11 matches remaining.
The Andalusian derby between Cadiz and Sevilla was an early test for Mendilibar, who replaced Jorge Sampaoli in the international break.
His team rose to the challenge with a back-to-basics display to move into midtable, winning on the road in La Liga for the first time since October.
Sevilla struggled to create chances in a tight first half which the hosts shaded, but Ocampos broke the deadlock soon after the break on a rebound from a corner.
En-Nesyri finished well to double his team's lead after Bryan Gil cushioned the ball into his path with a nice touch.
Sevilla climbed to 13th, five points above the relegation zone, while Cadiz are 16th, two points clear of the drop.
Girona, 10th, snatched a 2-1 win in a Catalan derby clash with Espanyol, leaving the Pericos 17th, a point above the relegation zone.
Getafe earned a creditable 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao and sit 14th. - AFP