BARCELONA (Reuters) - Injury-plagued Barcelona continued to set the pace at the top of La Liga after first-half penalties by Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas set them on course for a comfortable 4-0 home win over 10-man Granada on Saturday.
Barcelona, without talisman Lionel Messi until January because of a hamstring strain, head the table with 40 points from 14 matches, six ahead of Atletico Madrid and nine clear of Real Madrid, both of whom were playing later on Saturday.
Iniesta opened the scoring from the penalty spot after 20 minutes, while Fabregas doubled the advantage five minutes before the break.
Granada had Manuel Iturra dismissed after 66 minutes. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro scored the other goals for the champions, who were also missing Xavi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Valdes’s replacement Jose Manuel Pinto was largely untroubled as Barcelona kept up the impressive form which has seen them drop only two points this season.
“We had the right balance when going forward and we attacked as a group,” Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino told reporters after the match, in response to criticism of the team’s more direct style
”Maybe we could have taken more time in our build up play.
“We know here that winning is not sufficient and we have a responsibility with the club to perform in a certain way,”
“I have a philosophy of football slightly different to you and I think that passing the ball around 20 times can be entertaining but also ten times can be enjoyable as well.”
Martino preferred Marc Bartra to Carles Puyol alongside Gerard Pique at center half in a makeshift backline with fullbacks Dani Alves and Jordi Alba in the treatment room and Javier Mascherano, not 100 percent, on the bench.
Alexis had Barca’s first strike on goal within the first minute when his header, from a Neymar free kick, sent keeper Roberto Fernandez scampering to parry.
The home side were gifted the lead when Fabregas was needlessly bundled over in the box by Pape Diakhate and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Iniesta, captain for the day, took the shot in the absence of Messi, and coolly found the corner.
Granada’s Francisco Piti hit a powerful shot from 25 metres that cannoned off the crossbar midway through the first half with Pinto well beaten.
Iniesta was fouled in the box and this time Fabregas sent the keeper the wrong way to score in the 40th minute.
Pedro missed a good chance after the break but a second yellow card for the battling Iturra left Granada with a hard task.
Barca wrapped up a convincing win with Alexis finishing clinically from a Neymar pass. In the final minute, Pedro slid home the fourth goal with the Granada defence wide open.
Atletico Madrid were taking on Getafe later on Saturday and third-placed Madrid were visiting Almeria.
Editing by Josh Reich and Clare Fallon