Barça stay four points clear at the top of La Liga ater a comfortable 4-0 win over Almeria at Camp Nou. Sergi Barjuan’s new team held out until the 33rd minute when Leo Messi unleashed a spectacular curler to put Barça in front. Luis Suárez fired in a splendid goal early in the second half before Marc Bartra, and Suarez again, completed the scoring with late goals. Closest rivals Real Madrid kept up the chase with a win at Rayo Vallecano but there are now just eight games remaining in the title race.
Luis Enrique made six changes to the team that won at Celta on Sunday with Bartra, Mascherano, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, Xavi and Pedro replacing Piqué, Mathieu, Busquets, Rafinha, Iniesta and Neymar, and Barça began strongly, forcing three corners in the first six minutes. Suárez headed the third corner well over and the first attempt on target came in the 13th minute when Alves crossed to Messi in space but the Argentinian directed his header straight at Almeria keeper Julian.
Almeria began hesitantly but in the 15th minute they caused Barça a scare when Thievy dribbled in on the right before cutting the ball back to Wellington who shot past some flaying legs and past the far post. Barça responded with Pedro volleying across goal and wide, then in the 24th minute Suárez turned brilliantly past Trujillo but his cross found no finisher and Marin cleared.
Barça were beginning to look frustrated and Messi was having little luck with his runs and passes. Then in the 33rd minute Bartra pushed a pass forward to Messi who just kept the ball in by the touchline before bringing the ball back towards the area, cutting inside past Edgar and letting fly with a perfect curler into the far corner. Almeria had their best minutes between the goal and half-time but Bravo was only timidly tested by headers from ex-Barça B midfielder Javier Espinosa and from Trujillo while Edgar sent a 25-yarder well wide.
It was a disappointing first half from Barça but things picked up after the break with Suárez’s near post flick from Messi’s corner almost causing an own goal and then Adriano’s 25-yard effort produced a diving save from Julian. Then in the 55th minute Alves found Suárez on the right and the Uruguayan cut past Casado before sending a blistering shot that Julian touched but couldn’t prevent flying into the top corner. Rakitic might have added a third soon after but Julian got down well to stop his well-hit drive.
Montoya and Rafinha were brought on to rest Alves and Rakitic, and Montoya was soon getting forward to cross for Pedro who was denied by another Julian save. The third goal came from yet another set piece. Xavi took a corner from the right to the near and Bartra won the position to glance a header inside the far post.
Barça again ended the game strongly as our opponents tired. Messi had a goal ruled out, presumably for a foul as he looked clearly level with the defensive line. Messi then tried his luck with three free-kicks with Julian needing to make a fine save to keep out the third effort. In injury time Almeria were denied a consolation (again I’m not quite sure why) after Thomas smashed a volley past Bravo and there was still time for Barça to grab a fourth after Xavi found Messi who sent Pedro free and as Julian came out to close the angle Pedro played the ball across goal to give Suárez an easy finish for his second of the game.
This was another below-par performance against a pretty innocent opponent but this was more than understandable given the number of changes and the important games coming up. The important thing tonight was the victory and the three points. We now face a tremendous test with five games – Sevilla (a), PSG (a), Valencia (h), PSG (h) and Espanyol (a), all in the space of fifteen days. Hold on to your hats!
Barça: Bravo 6.5; Alves 6 (Montoya m64, 6.5), Bartra 6, Mascherano 6, Adriano 6; Rakitic 6.5 (Rafinha m67, 6), Sergi Roberto 6, Xavi 7; Messi 7, Suárez 7.5, Pedro 6.5.
Almeria: Julián Cuesta; Ximo Navarro, Antonio Marín, Trujillo, Casado; Thomas, Corona, Espinosa (Mane m79); Wellington (Soriano m56), Thievy, Edgar (Zongo m72).
Goals: m33 Messi 1-0, m55 Suárez 2-0, m75 Bartra 3-0, m93 Suárez 4-0.
Yellow cards: m43 Mascherano, m81 Casado.