- Associated Press - Saturday, January 28, 2023

BARCELONA, Spain — Pedri marked his 100th Barcelona appearance by scoring to squeeze past Girona 1-0 and increase their lead of the Spanish league on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Pedri started on the bench as Xavi rotated his lineup ahead of a busy week, but the playmaker replaced the injured Ousmane Dembélé in the 25th minute.

Girona stymied the league front-runner until Pedri’s fellow substitute, Jordi Alba, found him with a low cross at close range in the 61st. Pedri, who won the 2021 Golden Boy for the continent’s most promising under-21 player, is considered one of the pillars of Barcelona’s post-Messi rebuild. The Spain midfielder has scored six times this season.

Xavi’s team moved six points clear of Real Madrid before the titleholder hosts third-placed Real Sociedad on Sunday at the Liga’s midway point.

Dembélé asked to be substituted after he was apparently bothered by his left thigh following a sprint. Barcelona has yet to give any information on his status. He walked off the field and watched the rest of the game from the dugout.

The France forward, who suffered a series of injuries in his first seasons with Barcelona, has avoided serious injury since returning from a knee issue in November 2021.

PHOTOS: Pedri leads win at Girona in 100th game for Barcelona

Xavi said was Dembélé injured but the nature of it won’t be known until an exam on Sunday.

“It is too bad because he is one of our most decisive players,” Xavi said about his speedy winger. Dembélé has eight goals in this campaign and is Barcelona‘s best one-on-one attacker in open space.

That left Barcelona without its top two scorers. Robert Lewandowski, who leads the league with 13 goals, completed a three-game league suspension. Forward Ferran Torres was also suspended.

With Ansu Fati and Raphinha unable to generate much in attack, Xavi sent on Jordi Alba at halftime at left back for Marcos Alonso to help find a breakthrough.

A series of one-touch passes freed Alba down the left flank to square the ball across the goalmouth, where goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga let it slip through his hands and Pedri ensured Barcelona extended its winning streak to eight games across all competitions.

Girona, in 12th place, did nothing in attack until a late push. Ivan Martín was left wide open in front of the goal in the 86th, only to volley a cross high and wide.

Girona coach Michel was sent off in stoppage time with a direct red card for vehemently protesting what he thought was a foul on one of his players.

“We made a huge effort and played a good game,” Michel said. “We only threatened them two or three times, but they only had that one chance that they converted. With what we saw on the field the defeat is not fair.”

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