Winning 5-0 on the road is cause for celebration enough, but doing it without Messi, Iniesta, or Rakitić after a hard-fought draw against Atlético midweek is a miracle of a manita.
Barça came through with another juggled lineup that found a rhythm and was productive with it, scoring two goals late in the first half and again piling on deep into the second to take full control.
This win keeps the team ahead of Atleti. After Real Madrid’s draw at Las Palmas, it also puts them only one point off the top of the table.
With Messi and Umtiti out to injuries, the starting eleven in Gijón had Marc-André ter Stegen in goal, Lucas Digne, Gerard Piqué, Jeremy Mathieu, and Sergi Roberto at the back, Busquets, Turan, and Rafinha in the midfield, and Neymar, Turan, and Suárez at the front.
It took nearly half an hour to break through, including a nervy moment in the 20th minute when ter Stegen handled the ball outside the area and gave Sporting a free kick in a dangerous area. Barça escaped without conceding, however, and in the 29th minute Suárez controlled an excellent long ball from Arda Turan, moved past the keeper, and put his team ahead.
Ter Stegen in La Liga this season:
2 Clean Sheets
2 Goals Conceded
122/144 Pass compl. (85%)
1/1 Dribbles compl. (100%) pic.twitter.com/EcnofPPg5H
— FC Barcelona TV (@FC_BarcelonaTv) September 26, 2016
Three minutes later, Rafinha (in his second start of the league campaign) doubled the advantage. The Brazilian made a run to the near post and dove for a cross from Sergi Roberto, heading it home for his second goal in the last three games.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) September 24, 2016
That 2-0 scoreline held until halftime, and the same pattern played out again in the second 45 minutes. Sporting kept Barcelona from adding to their tally until Alberto Lora earned his second yellow for a tackle on Sergi Roberto.
The combination of holding back Barcelona’s offense for most of the game and being down to ten men meant that Sporting couldn’t keep up with the sustained attack. Barça looked especially dangerous late in the game, adding three more goals in the last 15 minutes.
Neymar, between recording an album and touchingly giving away his shirt to a Sporting fan, made time to score a brace. His first came in the 81st, finishing a rebound that Paco Alcácer put to the crossbar. His second closed out the game in the 88th, clinically finishing an excellent pass into the area from Denis Suárez.
Between Neymar’s two goals, Arda Turan scored his second of the season, moving free of his mark and heading home a cross from Roberto.
Roberto was far and away the best man on the pitch for Barcelona. It was just over a year ago that he seemed clearly on his way out, unable to break into the midfield or earn a spot in the team. That’s all changed rather drastically, from his versatility last season, to replacing Dani Alves at right back (a very tall order). At 24 years old, he leads La Liga in assists through the first six weeks, and so far he’s played with youthful energy and a vision beyond his years. Luis Enrique was the coach first promoted him to the B-team, and encouraged him to stay and fight for a place at his childhood club. He saw long ago what we’re all seeing now, and the entire team is benefiting from it.
Still missing Messi, Barcelona will travel to Mönchengladbach, Germany (the longtime club of ter Stegen!) for a Champions League game midweek, hoping to recreate recent successes and continue their momentum.