A stunning display from Neymar helped Barcelona back to winning ways as La Liga’s champions came from behind to beat Rayo Vallecano 5-2 at Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barca had lost two of their previous three games prior to this but Neymar cancelled out Javi Guerra’s opener by winning and converting two penalties before adding two quick-fire goals late on to help keep his side level on points with Real Madrid.
Guerra made the most of slack Barca defending 15 minutes in to earn the visitors a surprise lead, but Neymar proved too hot for Rayo to handle in the first half and had two of four penalty appeals given by the referee.
Having coaxed fouls from Diego Llorente and Nacho Martinez, Neymar tucked both spot kicks away to help Luis Enrique’s men deal with the absence of injured star Lionel Messi.
The Argentina man has had his struggles with penalties and Neymar will have a case to take them even when Messi returns.
Neymar capped a sublime display with two goals in two second-half minutes before laying on a fifth for Luis Suarez. Jozabed’s late finish mattered little as Barca moved second ahead of a clash between third-place Villarreal and Celta Vigo in fourth on Sunday.
Sergi Roberto was moved into midfield at Javier Mascherano’s expense and he played Ivan Rakitic clean through for Barca’s first chance, as Tono denied the Croatian one-on-one seven minutes in.
The pressure from the hosts continued as Tono’s poor clearance fell to Sergio Busquets, who passed to Luis Suarez, only for the Rayo goalkeeper to redeem himself by saving the Uruguayan’s effort from inside the area.
Jeremy Mathieu then denied Bebe a shot on goal after a quick counter, before Rayo took the lead against the run of play as Guerra punished some slack Barca defending.
The in-form striker turned home Bebe’s cross to register his fourth goal in six La Liga games to silence the Camp Nou 15 minutes in.
Neymar then saw his first penalty appeal waved away following a challenge from Llorente but the Rayo man fouled the Barca forward again soon after.
Referee Pedro Perez awarded what was a blatant penalty and Neymar converted before Suarez appeared to have completed the turnaround, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.
Neymar continued to cause Rayo problems, turning Martinez inside out before being upended inside the area for a second time – finding the opposite corner from the spot shortly after the half-hour mark.
Martinez appeared to foul Neymar again before the break but the Brazilian was denied a third penalty.
Rayo began the second half brightly and Claudio Bravo was called on to deny Guerra his second before producing a fine double stop after efforts from Lass Bangoura and Patrick Ebert to keep Barca in front.
Despite Rayo’s attempts, Neymar continued to prove unstoppable, finishing well when Tono saved from Suarez before his forward partner put a fourth goal on a plate 19 minutes from time.
Suarez earned his reward for a tireless display up front with a fifth – Neymar turning provider with an inch-perfect cross for the former Liverpool man to finish from close range – the pair having scored all of Barca’s last nine league goals between them.
Guerra’s second five minutes from time mattered little, as Rayo were left to contemplate a 10th consecutive defeat to Barca, shipping 45 goals in that spell.