Messi, Suarez, Pique put on exhibition in 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon
There were outstanding performances at both ends of the pitch as Barcelona beat Sporting Gijon 3-1 at El Molinon to open up a six-point gap at the top of La Liga.
Both Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi continued their spectacular form of late, scoring goals, dribbling past opponents and driving the direction of Barca's attack. The Argentinean showed off his range of shooting with one goal inside the box and another from the edge, while his counterpart conjured up a beautiful left-footed strike for the third goal, after wriggling away from defenders.
Poor first-half defending from three members of the Blaugrana's back four meant it wasn't always clear sailing for Luis Enrique's side. Lapses of concentration from Jeremy Mathieu, Adriano and Aleix Vidal allowed Carlos Castro to briefly level the score. Fortunately for the away team, Gerard Pique was in exceptional form, winning duel after duel and keeping the ship steady when his fellow defenders struggled.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Claudio Bravo, 6 -- Could do nothing about the Sporting goal, and when he was tested he stood firm to stop an Omar Mascarell shot from distance. Other than that, a quiet night for the Chilean, who kept possession ticking over when necessary.
DF Aleix Vidal, 4 -- Sporting's attackers regularly got the better of the right-back, whose timing was off all night, and he could perhaps have done more to block the cross that allowed Castro to score. At the other end of the pitch his luck wasn't much better -- a few good runs squandered by a poor touch -- though he at least weighted a nice pass through to Suarez in the build-up to Barca's third.
DF Gerard Pique, 9 -- Regularly bailing out his slack defensive companions, the Catalan was imposing when stepping up to quickly cut out attacks, and when put under pressure in one-v-one situations he always came out on top. An exhibition performance from Barcelona's defensive leader.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 5 -- The Frenchman was caught miles out of position for the Sporting goal, arriving in his own box just in time to watch Castro tuck the ball into the net. In the second half he was better, however, killing off two Alen Halilovic-led counter-attack attempts with minimal fuss.
DF Adriano, 4 -- Like Mathieu, the Brazilian barely bothered to defend in the move for the home side's goal, though in the attack he was generally better, providing a good outlet on the left flank.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- The pivot seemed to constantly be in the right position to correct his team's errors, and when on the ball he regularly completed smooth switches of play from the middle out to the wings, though he played less of the line-breaking passes that have been prevalent from him this season. Taken off after a booking late in the second half.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Though not spectacular, the Croatian's short and long game was competent for the most part, but in the latter stages of the game he committed a few errors that may have been down to fatigue. Worked hard without the ball, as always.
MF Arda Turan, 8 -- A solid passer and trustworthy recipient of possession, there were also a few glimpses of the unpredictable Turan that thrilled at Atletico Madrid, with the Turk leaving a defender on his backside in one change of direction, then back-heeling the ball away from pressure during another.
FW Lionel Messi, 9 -- The No. 10 was active from the kickoff, not allowing Sporting to ease into the game as he reeled off pass after pass into their area. Scored the opener with a great strike from the edge of the box. The second, from inside, followed a neat interchange with Suarez. Drew fouls, spread play, moved brilliantly: another day at the office.
FW Luis Suarez, 9 -- The Uruguayan's run helped create the space for Messi to shoot and break the deadlock, and five minutes later his brilliant physical work and deft touch forced an opening for the Argentinean to double his tally. Though he couldn't convert a penalty in the second half, he more than made up for it with a curling left-footed strike that sealed the result for the Blaugrana.
FW Neymar, 8 -- Took his time warming up, but once he began to hit his stride the home team were often tied in knots. Unlucky not to get on the score sheet with one shot from a standing position that hit the post, and another stinging Ivan Cuellar's palms. He also won a penalty from the Sporting keeper after a great change of pace.
MF Javier Mascherano, NR -- On for Busquets with only 10 minutes left, the Argentinean kept things simple to help protect a 3-1 lead.
DF Marc Bartra, NR -- Replaced Pique late on and didn't put a foot wrong in his brief cameo.
Lee Roden is a European football writer based in Barcelona. Follow him on Twitter: @LeeRoden89.