Messi, Neymar, Suarez strike to keep Barca rolling
Barcelona maintained their four-point lead at the top of La Liga on Saturday thanks to another clinical display from Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to down Real Sociedad 4-0.
Atletico Madrid kept the pressure on the European champions thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s solitary goal in a 1-0 win over Espanyol.
Real Madrid are now nine points adrift ahead of their trip to Eibar on Sunday.
Messi was making his first league start in two months as he continues his comeback from knee ligament damage.
But the Argentine was initially outshone by his strike partners as they each swept home from two Dani Alves crosses to put Barca in command at the break.
Neymar then added his second shortly after the half-time before teeing up Messi for his first league goal since September in stoppage time.
“They are constantly looking for one another and when they all score everyone is happy,” Dani Alves told Canal Plus about Barca’s front three.
“Without victories it doesn’t matter who scores or sets up the goals. If we all keep playing well, we will all be happy.”
Barca boss Luis Enrique made four changes from the side that destroyed Roma 6-1 in the Champions League in midweek, but with Messi, Suarez and Neymar deployed once more in attack, the Catalans didn’t miss a beat.
Suarez should have opened the scoring after just two minutes when he was brilliantly played in by Neymar, but Geronimo Rulli rushed from his line to bravely smother the Uruguayan’s effort just inside his area.
Even when Rulli was beaten, the woodwork saved Sociedad when Andres Iniesta headed Suarez’s perfectly measured cross against the post.
The visitors’ luck eventually ran out on 22 minutes, though, when Messi released Alves down the right and Neymar was quickest to meet his low cross and drive the ball into the top corner.
Alves was the creator once more for Barca’s second just before the break as his floated cross picked out Suarez to acrobatically volley into the far corner.
Barca had to wait just eight minutes after the break for a third with the full-backs proving Sociedad’s downfall again as this time Jeremy Mathieu squared for Neymar to apply a simple finish.
That strike took Neymar and Suarez’s tally in La Liga this season to 26 — the same as the entire Real Madrid squad.
However, both then turned their hand to trying to set up Messi.
It looked like being a forlorn afternoon for Messi when his brilliant curling effort came back off the crossbar four minutes from time.
However, a final piece of magic between Neymar and Suarez allowed the Brazilian to roll the ball invitingly across goal for Messi to slot into an empty net and seal a fantastic week for Barca which has seen them take a strangle hold of La Liga and clinch their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Atletico had to once again settle for victory by a solitary goal despite a more impressive attacking display after Griezmann had prodded home Oliver Torres’s third minute cross for his 10th goal of the season.
The hosts suffered a setback when influential midfielder Tiago was stretchered off with a broken right leg midway through the first-half.
Atletico were still rarely troubled, though, and should have added to their advantage after the break as Diego Godin and Koke struck the post.
Fernando Torres also curled an effort just over as his search for his 100th Atletico goal continues, but a 12th clean sheet in 18 games this season was enough to close to gap on Barca.
Celta Vigo moved level with Real in third thanks to Nolito’s fortuitous winner five minutes from time to squeeze past Sporting Gijon 2-1.
Deportivo la Coruna are on their Galician rivals tails in fifth as an early David Simon own goal and Lucas Perez’s ninth league goal of the season handed them a 2-0 win at Las Palmas.
And Malaga spurned a huge chance to move out of the relegation zone as Granada struck twice in the last 10 minutes to claim a 2-2 draw at La Rosaleda.