Barcelona overcame the absence of the injured Lionel Messi to put pressure on Real Madrid with an emphatic 5-0 win at Sporting Gijon in LaLiga on Saturday.
First-half goals from Luis Suarez and Rafinha put the champions in command of the contest at El Molinon, where the hosts finished with 10 men following the dismissal of captain Alberto Lora for a second bookable offence.
Neymar’s brace and an Arda Turan goal added gloss to the scoreline late on against demoralised opposition.
The win sees Barca move top of the table on goal difference, level on points – at least temporarily – with Madrid, who are in action away to Las Palmas later in the day.
Messi, ruled out for three weeks by a groin injury suffered in the 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, was one of five absentees from Barca’s regular starting XI, with Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba all rested, perhaps with a midweek Champions League trip to face Borussia Monchengladbach in mind.
The changes may have contributed to a slow start from Barca, who survived a scare in the 20th minute when goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen escaped without even a yellow card after briefly handling the ball outside his area, Sporting’s subsequent free-kick coming to nothing.
The visitors slowly began to exert some sustained pressure on the Sporting goal, Andre Gomes firing over twice in the space of two minutes approaching the half-hour mark.
And Luis Enrique’s side duly made the breakthrough in the 30th minute, when Arda’s delivery over the top of the defence drew out Ivan Cuellar, who did not get there in time to clear the danger.
Suarez nudged the ball around the stranded keeper, collected it on the other side and stroked a simple finish into an empty net.
Just two minutes later it was 2-0, Neymar playing Sergi Roberto into space down the right flank. His cross was met at the near post by the head of Rafinha, leaving Cuellar with no chance.
And while Sporting had been holding their own and threatening sporadically after the break, any slim hopes of a comeback ended in the 73rd minute, when Lora received a second yellow card for a late tackle on the outstanding Roberto.
Barca head coach Luis Enrique, who began his distinguished playing career alongside Sporting boss Abelardo Fernandez at El Molinon, protected his prized assets further as the match petered out, Suarez and Sergio Busquets replaced by Paco Alcacer and Denis Suarez respectively, as, with the match won, the trip to Borussia-Park on Wednesday became Barca’s priority.
Alcacer is yet to open his Barca account following an off-season switch from Valencia, but he had a hand in the third goal, meeting Roberto’s pass from the right to cannon a fierce shot against the crossbar. Neymar gathered the rebound, gliding around Cuellar to tap home a simple finish.
Denis Suarez then did brilliantly running at the sorry Sporting defence, slipping in Neymar wide on the left side of the box, the Brazil international grabbing his second and Barca’s fifth with a shot across the keeper and into the far corner of the net. And only the woodwork denied Neymar a hat-trick in injury time.
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