Barcelona moved five points clear at the top of La Liga with a 3-0 win against Las Palmas on Sunday, but the game was played behind closed doors.
A distinct lack of atmosphere overshadowed the politically-charged clash at Camp Nou due to the Catalan referendum, but goals from Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi ensured the occasion did not get to Barca.
No fans were allowed in the stadium after ugly scenes marred the independence vote earlier in the day, although the Blaugrana’s reluctance for the game to go ahead was out of support for the Catalan people and not issues over security.
Yet while the the hosts’ preparations for the encounter were marked by uncertainty, Las Palmas – led out for the first time by new boss Pako Ayestaran – were out warming up by themselves an hour before kick-off and wore Spanish flags on their shirts.
The Catalans struggled for control in the first half and lacked quality going forward. Luis Suarez was threaded through by Lionel Messi early on, but his finish from point-blank range was straight at Leandro Chichizola.
Messi – on what was supposed to be a celebratory 594th appearance for Barca, surpassing club legend Carles Puyol – then curled a free kick towards the top-right corner of Chichizola’s goal, but the goalkeeper went across to push it away.
Las Palmas, for their part, should’ve taken the lead when Tana played an eye-of-the-needle pass to Ousmane Tannane. The winger’s cutback in the Barca area was met by Jonathan Calleri, but the striker’s finish clipped the post.
Barca brought on Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic for the second half, and the pair tipped the game in the Catalans’ favour. Messi bent another free kick on target, but Chichizola once more pushed his set-piece away.
However, Chichizola could do nothing about Busquets’ towering header from a corner, the midfielder celebrating to a smattering of applause after the goalkeeper had tipped over Rakitic’s volley.
Messi came close to doubling Barca’s lead, but his close-range finish was saved, before the No 10 sent a free header wide from Luis Suarez’s chipped cross.
Nonetheless, he was slipped in behind with an inch-perfect, through ball and simply walked around Chichizola, prior to tucking his finish into an empty net.
Messi soon netted the hosts’ third goal through a lovely, sweeping move, half-volleying past Chichizola from just inside the box, but te game ended on a sour note for them as Iniesta went off with a suspected injury.
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