Neymar and Lionel Messi were on target as Barcelona produced a sensational first-half performance to take a huge step towards the La Liga title with a 2-0 win at local rivals Espanyol on Saturday.
The visitors dominated from the off and two goals in eight minutes sealed the win as Neymar and Messi rounded off excellent team moves.
Barca were reduced to 10 men early in the second period as Jordi Alba was given his marching orders for taking his protestations towards referee Mateu Lahoz too far.
But Luis Enrique’s men held on comfortably and could have even added to their lead had Neymar not blazed a glorious chance over 25 minutes from time.
Victory takes Barca four points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table with Los Blancos not in action until Sunday when they travel to Celta Vigo.
“I think we played the best first-half of the season in terms of dominating all facets of the game. We had the ball in their half, moved the ball well, created chances and pressed well after losing the ball,” said Enrique.
“In the second-half I thought we played very well too despite the fact the sending-off could have created doubts or made us struggle a bit more.”
Espanyol ‘keeper Kiko Casilla kept his side in the game early on as he made two great saves to deny Neymar and Luis Suarez at the end of moves started by fine crossfield passes by Messi.
The Argentine then fed Neymar with a fine ball over the top, but there was just too much purchase on the Brazilian’s finish as it looped over Casilla and over the bar.
There was nothing Casilla could do to prevent Neymar opening the scoring on 17 minutes as another stunning pass from Messi fed Alba on the left and his cross was dummied by Suarez to allow Neymar the simplest of finishes.
Barca doubled their advantage eight minutes later in controversial circumstances as Andres Iniesta’s pass found Suarez in an offside position, but the flag wasn’t raised and he picked out Messi at the back post, who squeezed the ball past Casilla at his near post.
That goal took Messi, Neymar and Suarez’s combined tally for the season to 97 and they could even have reached a century on the day had their finishing been more precise.
Casilla made two more terrific saves to deny Neymar after good work from Suarez just before and after the break.
The visitors were then reduced to 10 men as Alba was sent-off in innocuous circumstances for his protestations towards the referee after he awarded Espanyol a goal-kick.
Barcelona still enjoyed the best of the chances with 10 men as Messi saw a shot deflected onto the post before Neymar blazed over with the goal at his mercy from Suarez’s unselfish cut-back.
And Lahoz balanced up the numbers on the field in stoppage time by remarkably also showing Hector Moreno two yellow cards in a matter of seconds for contesting a decision.
Atletico Madrid bounced back from their Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid to strengthen their hold on thrid place with a 3-0 win over Elche at the Vicente Calderon.
Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring with a neat headed finish after Przemysław Tyton had brilliantly saved from Koke’s initial effort, but the Polish ‘keeper was slow to react as Raul Garcia’s shot sneaked in at his near post for the second.
Griezmann then rounded off the scoring from Saul Niguez’s pass to become the highest scoring Frenchman ever in a single La Liga season with 22 goals.
Atletico are now seven points clear of Valencia in third place with Los Che not in action until Monday when they host Granada.
SOURCE: Muscat Daily