Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were in scintillating form on Saturday, inspiring 10-man Barcelona to a comfortable 2-0 Catalan derby win over Espanyol to move them five points clear at the top of La Liga.
Despite Friday’s UEFA Champions League semi-final draw pairing Barca with club legend Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich, Luis Enrique’s side’s focus could not be questioned, with their stellar attacking trio taking their collective goals tally to an incredible 97 for the season.
Luis Enrique’s men had already seen several fine opportunities go to waste before Neymar’s opener 17 minutes in – the in-form Brazilian’s fifth goal in as many games.
And their second followed shortly after, Suarez – who also starred for Neymar’s goal – setting up Messi for his 47th of the season across all competitions.
The brilliant front three continued to torment Espanyol and, although Jordi Alba’s 54th-minute dismissal cast some doubt over Barca’s position, a turnaround never looked likely as the visitors cranked up the pressure on second-placed Real Madrid ahead of their trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday.
Barcelona’s pairing with Guardiola’s Bayern dominated the build-up, but the visitors showed no signs of being distracted early on, carving through Espanyol at will.
The home side had to rely on Kiko Casilla twice inside the first six minutes to keep the score level, the goalkeeper denying Neymar and Suarez in quick succession.
Casilla was rendered helpless soon after, however, as Barca took a deserved lead in delightful fashion.
Alba raced on to Messi’s pinpoint cross-field ball, knocking it into the area first-time and Neymar stabbed home after Suarez nonchalantly stepped over the ball eight yards out.
Barca’s second arrived just eight minutes later, Andres Iniesta and Suarez combining on the edge of the area, before Messi found the net from a tight angle following a controlled pass across the face of goal from the Uruguayan.
The impressive Suarez almost inspired a third goal four minutes before the break, flicking a brilliant pass into the path of Neymar, whose half-volley was palmed wide by Casilla.
Barca should have wrapped things up in the 51st minute, but Neymar failed to beat the onrushing Casilla following an incisive throughball from Sergio Busquets.
Two yellow cards in a matter of seconds for dissent a few minutes later meant an early bath for Alba, but that had little effect on Barca’s attacking fluency, with Messi hitting the post almost immediately after.
Espanyol had a little more joy towards the end, with Christian Stuani blazing over from 12 yards with 16 minutes to go, before Hector Moreno was also shown two quick yellows late on.
But Barca – who introduced Xavi for his 500th La Liga appearance two minutes from time – held firm to clinch a routine win that keeps them firmly in charge of the title race.