Barcelona recorded a largely comfortable Champions League win over Ajax thanks to goals from Neymar and Lionel Messi.
La Blaugrana were barely troubled by the Dutch visitors, warming up for Saturday’s trip to Real Madrid in straightforward fashion. Luis Enrique was even able to give Neymar and Messi half-an-hour’s rest.
Neymar opened the scoring after eight minutes from Messi’s assist, the Brazil and Argentina captains once more combining to devastating effect. It was Neymar’s 10th goal of the season and a fifth assist from Messi.
It was Andres Iniesta with the assist for Barca’s second goal, Messi converting after Ajax gave the ball away inside their own half.
Anwar El Ghazi got a late goal for Ajax to make life a little more uncomfortable for Barca, converting after a goalmouth scramble in which no Barca player present took command.
Sandro Ramirez soothed any nerves in the final minute of injury time with Barca’s third goal, exploiting the space as Ajax committed players forward in search of an equaliser.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was picked over Claudio Bravo while Sergio Busquets missed out through injury, Javier Mascherano continuing in midfield and Gerard Pique keeping his place in defence.
A quiet opening few minutes was enlivened by the combination of Pedro Rodriguez, Messi and Neymar. Pedro teed up Messi, Messi danced through and with Ivan Rakitic offering a dummy run, Neymar found space and then found the far corner.
Messi soon after fired over when found on the penalty spot but made no mistake with his next chance, although Jasper Cillessen, having gotten a hand to the shot, should have kept it out, but Iniesta’s pass and Messi’s first touch arguably deserved a goal.
Pedro nearly made it three after Messi led a Barca counter-attack but could only hit the far post with his well-struck effort while the biggest scare for Barca came when Pique contrived to give the ball away in his own penalty area, as well as a late deflected shot from distance.
A dazzling run from Iniesta almost produced a third goal and Messi twice went close after the break, having one disallowed and shooting into the side netting after a dribble to match Iniesta’s the other side of the interval.
Ricardo van Rhijn gave Ter Stegen a scare as Ajax looked to get back in the game but it was Pique again who caused most stress for Ter Stegen. The centre-back shinned a cross away, up and over the crossbar, onto the roof of the net, with the goalkeeper flat-footed.
Messi’s game ended shortly after the hour when Munir El Haddadi was brought on, Messi jogging off after the minor controversy regarding substitutions in the Eibar game. Neymar was withdrawn a little earlier, the goal scorers getting a rest with the Clasico days away.
Ivan Rakitic thumped a shot right at Cillessen but Barca weren’t exactly frantic in their efforts for a third. Rafinha selfishly chose to shoot after leading a counter-attack despite having teammates better placed and Dani Alves fizzed a free-kick over the crossbar before Sandro sealed the victory.
Barcelona 3-1 Ajax
Neymar 8, Messi 24, Sandro 90+3 (FCB), El Ghazi 88 (A)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta (Rafinha 76); Pedro, Messi (Munir 66), Neymar (Sandro 60)
Ajax: Cillessen; van Rhijn, Veltman, Moisander, Viergever; Klaassen, Zimling (Riedewald 55), Andersen; Schone, Sigthorsson (El Ghazi 73), Kishna (Milik 46)
Referee: William Collum [SCO]