Luis Suarez scored four goals for the second game running as Barcelona stayed top of La Liga with a 6-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon in La Liga on Saturday.
Two Barca changes from Wednesday’s 8-0 demolition of Deportivo La Coruna saw Pique return from suspension to take the place of Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto come in for Dani Alves at right-back, with Aleix Vidal dropped again, while Sporting started with Blaugrana loanee Alen Halilovic.
Despite having seemingly put their poor form prior to midweek behind them, Sporting should’ve taken the lead when Miguel Guerrero broke away down the right and sent a cross towards the back post for an unmarked Alex Menendez to finish off, but the left-winger’s first-time shot in the penalty area was blocked last-ditch by Sergi and Claudio Bravo could make the save.
It gave Barca the confidence to go ahead themselves as Pichu Cuellar punched a long ball clear, but he clashed with Luis Suarez in the process and was possibly clipped by the Uruguayan. Nonetheless, Messi – having looped a header over the bar earlier in the match – simply did the same from 18 yards out, over the melee of bodies and into the back of the net.
Neymar, meanwhile, was still lacking his usual instinct in front of goal as an angled through ball squeezed between a gap in the Sporting defence for the Brazilian to latch onto, yet the forward attracted a swarm of visiting jerseys and could only switch from left to right in the penalty area and tee up Suarez, whose shot was shut down immediately.
The No 9 took his time again when he sprung the offside trap to take on Messi’s through ball, which allowed Cuellar to spread his body and block the Brazilian’s shot from point-blank range.
For all of Barca’s dominance, however, they failed to deal with a low cross towards their far post, and Halilovic bounced a finish towards the bottom-left corner, only for Gerard Pique to chest the ball clear on the line, amidst suspicions he used his arm.
Neymar’s lack of confidence was exposed again when he took on a diagonal through ball to the left of Cuellar’s goal but hesitated when picking his spot, before Jordi Alba’s ball back into the box appeared to strike the arm of a yellow shirt.
Messi had the ball in the net, only for it to be ruled out for an infringement, but a fine Barca move was eventually wrapped up by Suarez, who awaited a low cross from the left after the No 10 found Alba unmarked and simply tapped home with the goal at his mercy.
Suarez then scored the first of three penalties for his side after an unfortunate introduction for Roberto Canella, who had just come on when he blocked Dani Alves’ cross with his arm. The Uruguayan sent Cuellar the wrong way with the perfect mix of power and precision.
Another Sporting substitute Antonio Sanabria barged Neymar off the ball in the box, and up stepped Suarez, who practically attempted the same spot-kick to his first, the only difference being that he hit the ball to the left rather than the right.
Ognjen Vranjies was sent off for two yellow cards when he pushed Neymar in the box when vying for a cross. While it wasn’t convincing, Neymar got his goal as his penalty went straight down the middle and crept over the line, despite Cuellar making contact with the ball via his feet.
Suarez still had time to clip a curling finish first time onto the post and into the back of the net after he was played in behind by Messi to end the game on 34 League goals for the season and three more than previous Pichichi leader Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona 6-0 Sporting Gijon
Messi 12, Suarez 63, pen 74, pen 77, 88, Neymar pen 85 (B) Vranjes sent off 84 (SG)
Barcelona: Bravo; Sergi (Alves 46), Pique (Bartra 66), Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic (Arda 75), Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Sporting Gijon: Cuellar; Vranjes, Hernandez, Lichnovsky, Lopez (Canella 70); Mascarell, Rachid; Perez (Sanabria 62), Halilovic, Menendez; Guerrero (Castro 75)
Referee: Clos Gomez