Luis Suarez was the hero for Barcelona as his pair of assists earned La Blaugrana a 2-1 victory over Almeria to end their losing run in La Liga.
The Catalan giants dropped Neymar and Luis Suarez for the trip to Andalusia, with only Lionel Messi keeping his place in the centre of their attacking triumvirate. Munir El Haddadi and Pedro Rodriguez were chosen to flank the Argentine.
Elsewhere, Jordi Alba and Xavi Hernandez were replaced by Adriano and Rafinha to complete a new-look line-up, while Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen, Andres Iniesta and Sergi Roberto remained sidelined through injury. Similarly, Almeria opted to make several changes of their own, with the likes of Fran Velez and Thievy preferred to frequent starters Mauro dos Santos and Tomer Hemed.
Barca started positively and created the game’s first chance through Messi, who carefully took down Munir’s clipped ball into the box and saw his effort stopped by Ruben. The youngster then collected the rebound, cutting the ball onto his left foot, but swipe the finished wide of the target.
The warning signs were for all to see, as Almeria sprung into life afterwards, and they were frustrated to see two penalty shouts turned down. First, Ramon Azeez profited from a lovely interchange with Thievy but went down too easily under Marc Bartra’s challenge, before the former West Brom forward took an elbow in the back near the Barca goal.
La Blaugrana were soon back on the offensive, and they should have broken the deadlock when Ivan Rakitic climbed highest at the back post to meet a cross. However, the Croat was superbly denied by Ruben, and so was Messi, who failed to make his second bite of the cherry count.
Their complacency would prove costly, as the No 10 was caught cold in close proximity of the hosts’ box, allowing Almeria to hit back on the break. Fernando Soriano played in Thievy with a weighted through ball, and the striker left the Barca defence for dead and dispatched a cool finish beyond Claudio Bravo.
It was an approach which the Andalusians maintained throughout, as they were happy to gift Barca the lion’s share of possession. Luis Enrique’s gamble on Suarez and Neymar backfired, and before a ball was kicked in the second half, both of his big-money signings were introduced.
However, Suarez came the closest to grabbing the equaliser on the hour mark. Ghosting in behind the Almeria defence, the Uruguayan attacker connected with a corner and unleashed a terrific scissor kick on the half-volley, which slammed against the frame of the goal.
The 2009 treble-winners seemed to be heading for a third straight League defeat, with chances coming at a premium despite their array of talent up field, but they were dealt a huge slice of luck when Neymar converted Suarez’s low cross, albeit with a deflection.
Barca finally had the momentum, in no part due to the influence of the ex-Liverpool ace. The forward almost found the back of the net, as he tried to take matters into his own hands with a sharp turn on the edge of the box and a stinging low shot, which whistled just wide of goal.
Messi remains one goal behind Telma Zarra in La Liga’s all-time scoring stakes, and he showed himself to be no nearer to toppling the legendary striker, as his lobbed effort over Ruben from Suarez’s dinked ball could only land in the netting above the goal.
The profligacy of the visitors’ strikers meant the winner would come from an unusual source, and it so happened that Jordi Alba emerged at the back post with 10 minutes remaining to meet Suarez’s inch-perfect cross and slash a bouncing finish past the Almeria goalkeeper.
Almeria 1-2 Barcelona
Thievy 37 (A), Neymar 72 (B), Alba (B) 82
Almeria: Ruben; Ximo, Trujillo, Fran Velez, Dubarbier; Verza, Azeez; Thomas (Wellington 85), Soriano (Hemed 68), Jonathan; Thievy (Edgar 78)
Barcelona:Bravo; Adriano, Bartra, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets (Xavi 66), Rafinha; Munir (Suarez 45), Messi, Pedro (Neymar 45)