Neymar helped to keep Barcelona on course for La Liga glory with the decisive goal in a battling 2-0 win over Real Sociedad.
Heading into the match with a slender two-point advantage over rivals Real Madrid at the summit and buoyed by Wednesday’s spectacular 3-0 UEFA Champions League win over Bayern Munich, Barcelona endured a frustrating first half at Camp Nou.
Sociedad claimed a famous 1-0 victory over their illustrious opponents in January and remained in with a chance of repeating the dose as waves of Barca attacks were repelled.
Luis Enrique’s team began the second period with renewed vigour and were rewarded when Neymar nodded in a 51st-minute opener.
The match remained in the balance until substitute Pedro rifled home a superb overhead kick to quell Sociedad’s hopes of a late rally.
It was a goal that put the pressure back on Real Madrid, with Barca in the driving seat for their penultimate Liga match at Atletico Madrid – a fixture that could be affected by potential strike action relating to a dispute over Spanish football’s new television rights agreement.
Fresh from his midweek heroics, Lionel Messi tested Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli with a looping header from Dani Alves’ right-wing cross.
Alves supplied the ammunition again when Luis Suarez glanced over in the ninth minute before Rulli got out to smother Neymar’s shot following a one-two with Messi.
A foray forward from Gerard Pique called Rulli into action once more and outcome did not match ambition when the Barca centre-back tried to convert the rebound with an overhead kick.
Suarez planted another header off target in the 33rd minute after Messi followed some dazzling footwork with a precise chip across the area.
Rafinha combined with Marc Bartra from Xavi’s free-kick – three players recalled by Barcelona coach Luis Enrique – six minutes before the break but the former was denied by an excellent block from Mikel Gonzalez.
Alves then flashed a drive wide, but David Moyes’ team held out under relentless pressure to reach half-time on level terms.
Rulli picked up where he left off before the break, pushing Barta’s header from Xavi’s corner out of the top corner.
A magnificent, last-ditch challenge from Inigo Martinez thwarted Suarez, but the opener was not long in coming.
Precise left-footed deliveries by Messi from the right were an established feature of the contest and his clipped ball glanced off Mikel, with Neymar was on hand to score for the 22nd time in La Liga this season.
Messi had a rasping shot blocked as he searched in vain for the goal his efforts deserved before Pedro clinched the points in stunning fashion.
Luis Enrique celebrated his 45th birthday this week and he can reflect on two performances that keep the treble firmly in Barca’s sights.
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