Neymar and Luis Suarez again made light of Lionel Messi’s absence to inspire Barcelona to a 3-0 La Liga win over Villarreal.
Usually the supporting cast to Messi’s lead role in Barca’s stellar forward line, Neymar and Suarez have been in irresistible form since the Argentina captain picked up a knee injury last month.
And the deadly duo were at it again at Camp Nou on Sunday as they both struck in the second half to earn Barca a victory that moves them three points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table ahead of their arch-rivals’ trip to Sevilla later the same day.
Only Madrid and their cross-city foes Atletico Madrid had conceded fewer Liga goals this season than Villarreal prior to kick-off, and Marcelino’s men showed plenty of gritty defensive organisation in the first half to keep Barca at bay.
But, somewhat inevitably, Neymar and Suarez came to the fore after the break, with the former breaking the deadlock after an hour with an unerring finish, before the latter made sure of the points from the penalty spot nine minutes later.
Neymar then capped off the convincing win with an outrageous touch and volley after collecting a pass from Suarez as Barca cruised to all three points to turn up the pressure on Madrid.
Barca gradually wrested control away from a confident Villarreal, and Dani Alves saw a well-struck volley deflected wide for a corner in the 18th minute as the pressure on the visitors’ goal mounted.
Jeremy Mathieu was next to go close, as a lightning counter from Barca ended with Suarez slipping a pass into the path of the marauding French defender, only for his powerful low shot to be well saved from Alphonse Areola.
But for all their territorial dominance, Luis Enrique’s team had Claudio Bravo to thank for keeping them level at half-time when the Chilean made a superb save from Samu Castillejo’s close-range effort just before the break.
Both Suarez and Neymar were cautioned for dissent shortly after the restart as Barca’s frustrations grew, before Alves forced Areola into action once again from Neymar’s pinpoint cross.
But Barca did take the lead on the hour mark and it was Neymar who made the breakthrough.
Sergio Busquets intercepted a wayward pass around 40 yards from goal before guiding the ball into Neymar with an inch-perfect pass, the Brazilian taking one touch before coolly slotting his 10th Liga goal of the season beyond Areola at the goalkeeper’s near post.
And Suarez got in on the act shortly after. Munir El Haddadi was crudely brought down in the area by Jaume Costa, and Neymar unselfishly opted to hand penalty duties to his team-mate, who duly sent Areola the wrong way for his sixth goal in his last four appearances.
But Neymar saved the best for last. Suarez played a low ball in from the left, and the Brazil captain produced an audacious flick over the head of a hapless Villarreal defender before spinning and volleying past Areola.
The emphatic victory will see Barca go into the eagerly anticipated Clasico against Madrid on November 21 full of confidence.