SPORTING 1 - 3 BARCELONA

Messi and Suárez hand Barça daylight at top of Liga table

The Argentinean scored twice and the Uruguayan added a third to ride the challenge of a spirited Sporting Gijón in El Molinón.

Messi and Suárez hand Barça daylight at top of Liga table
Alvaro Barrientos AP

Barcelona took full advantage of their game in hand in El Molinón to move six points clear at the top of the Liga table with a 3-1 victory on which Leo Messi imposed his authority, scoring twice in the first half. The Argentinean’s first strike was his 300th in the Spanish top flight and his second was Barcelona’s 10,000th in competitive matches. Luis Suárez embellished the result with a fine effort that took his tally in the league to 23, level with Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuaín in the European Golden Boot stakes.

Despite Sporting manager Abelardo Fernández’s pre-match comment that his side’s game against Betis this weekend is of more importance in the larger scheme of things – and his line-up certainly held true to that notion, with a raft of players rested – Sporting also backed up their coach’s assertion that no red carpet would be rolled out for the league leaders. Set up to be solid in defence and with plenty of speed on the counter attack, the home side closed Barcelona down despite Luis Enrique’s team having the lion’s share of the ball from the outset. Barça found it hard going initially to create chances and the first of the game fell to Sporting, Alex Menéndez getting on the end of a quick break and firing just wide of Claudio Bravo’s far post.

But as is so often the case, the game lasted as long as Messi decided it should last. On 25 minutes the Argentinean performed his trademark run across the box and unleashed a shot into the bottom corner that the home defence saw coming too late. However, Sporting were urged on by the home fans and recovered swiftly from the blow, racing upfield and catching Barça cold. Carlos Castro finished the move with a well-timed run and finish after a swift passing move from the back.

El Molinón was in full throat but Messi moved swiftly to silence them. The number 10 played a one-two with Suárez and finished with a ferocious strike with the outside of his boot that Pichu in the Sporting goal could do little about.

In the second half, Barcelona attempted to control the game though periods of possession despite the home side’s insistence. Neymar earned his team a penalty when he was brought down by Pichu but Suárez placed his shot well within the keeper’s reach, Pichu making a fine save and pushing the ball to safety. However, the Uruguayan more than made amends when he picked up the ball on the edge of the area, shimmied a couple of times and then hit a curling effort past the grasp of the Sporting keeper to make it 3-1.