Lionel Messi moved to within two goals of the 500 mark for Barcelona as his brace gave the Catalans a nervy 3-2 win against Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Consecutive defeats to Malaga and Juventus forced Luis Enrique’s hand as Barca reverted to 4-3-3 against La Real, with Jeremy Mathieu making way for left-back Jordi Alba and Paco Alcacer replacing the suspended Neymar.
Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Sporting Gijon earlier in the day made the match a must-win for the Catalans if they were to keep their flagging hopes of a third straight La Liga title alive.
Barca began the game like their old selves as Lionel Messi threaded through Alba, who overlapped down the far left, but the latter’s cutback for a certain Luis Suarez goal went behind the striker.
Moments after Gero Rulli was forced to smother danger in his box, Yuri Berchiche’s first-time cutback was met by Mikel Oyarzabal, but last season’s hero at Anoeta failed to beat Marc-Andre ter Ter Stegen from close range.
Nonetheless, Alcacer nutmegged his opponent before teeing up Suarez and then Messi, who blasted a sweet strike into Rulli’s bottom right from a fair way out.
Suarez got to the left-hand byline and cut back for Messi, but the Argentine confronted by countryman Rulli at the near post. The Uruguayan then met Ivan Rakitic’s ball back in, but his volley was quickly closed down.
Alcacer was presented with a glorious chance to repay some of Barca’s €30m investment when Sergi Roberto played a low cross into him, but the unmarked striker failed to connect.
Messi did, however, when he scuffed the ball over the line after some awful Real defending saw Suarez slalom unopposed into the Real box and Joseba Zaldua make a mess of his eventual tackle on the No 9.
La Raul pulled one back through Inigo Martinez, who smashed in a shot through Ter Stegen’s legs via Samuel Umtiti. Yet just two minutes later, Messi slipped in Alcacer, who angled a finish across Rulli.
More bad defending resulted in the Basques scoring again on the stroke of half-time. Veteran Xabi Prieto ghosted in behind, meeting a square ball over the top, and coolly sent a first-time finish past Ter Stegen.
Willian Jose was completely unmarked in the left-centre pocket of Barca’s box when a square ball came in, but he opted to shift onto his stronger right foot and took too long, allowing Sergio Busquets time to sneak in with the interception.
Barca’s lack of control and intensity was seen by Los Txuriurdin having more possession at one point in the second half.
Gerard Pique was guilty of not marshalling his backline as Sergio Canales broke free of the Blaurgrana defence down the left but failed to pick out Willian Jose with his cross.
Oyarzabal then failed to control a cross from the left quickly enough, before Willian Jose could only slide an angled delivery away from goal, despite peeling off Pique.
Asier Illarramendi almost channeled his inner Xabi Alonso as he tried to lob Ter Stegen from a free kick, but the goalkeeper just about tipped over.
La Real could’ve nicked a point right at the end through Yuri, who was totally free down the left of Barca’s box, but he hesitated and ended up lifting his shot over. Suarez similarly came close at the other end, but his one-on-one with Rulli was stopped by the custodian.