Neymar's hat trick downs Las Palmas, helps Barca keep pace with Real
Neymar scored a hat trick as Barcelona eased to a 4-1 win at Las Palmas on Sunday to ensure the La Liga title race will go to the final day. Luis Suarez was also on target, with the home side replying through Pedro Bigas in the second half.
Barca can only focus on themselves now, and that's exactly what they did here, picking up the necessary points to keep the pressure on Real Madrid at the top of the table. Brazilian star Neymar was the standout performer with three goals, but Marlon Santos' display was also noteworthy. The young B team defender was making his La Liga debut and Luis Enrique will be more than happy with how he settled straight into the side.
With Gerard Pique, Aleix Vidal and Jeremy Mathieu all sidelined for various reasons and Sergi Roberto suspended, the last thing Barca needed was for Javier Mascherano to pull up with an injury in the warm-up. Luckily, Marlon filled in with real class, but the Blaugrana will hope the Argentine international is back for the final game of the season against Eibar.
There was also bad news from Madrid, where Real beat Sevilla 4-1. Zinedine Zidane's side need just four points from their final two games -- away against Celta Vigo and Malaga -- to stop Barca from winning a third consecutive title. Barca need Madrid to lose one of their remaining games -- or draw them both.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Luis Enrique said he was looking forward to the challenge of picking a defence in difficult circumstances, but he may have been nervous when he lost Mascherano 20 minutes before kick-off. Marlon's performance, though, meant he needn't have been worried.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Called into action several times in what was, at times, an open game. Made one particularly good save from Jese Rodriguez and can't be blamed for the Las Palmas goal.
DF Lucas Digne, 5 -- An evening to forget for the Frenchman, who was admittedly asked to play out of position at right-back. Was lucky not to see red for an early last-man-back foul on Jese and struggled to get into the game having been hampered by a hamstring injury throughout the week. Eventually taken off early in the second half.
DF Marlon Santos, 7 -- A league debut for the young Brazilian, who came into the side 20 minutes before the game when Mascherano dropped out. Considering that and the pressure on Barca to win this game, he produced a mature performance and one that suggests he has a long-term future with the first team.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 -- Started the season as the rookie in Barcelona's back line but he was forced to be the leader here. Excellent on the ball and alert to the home side's threat on the break in what was a makeshift back line.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- A key player in attack and created a number of chances. Linked well with Lionel Messi, but left acres of space for the Las Palmas goal, which the home side gleefully gobbled up on the counter-attack. Quickly made amends by setting up Neymar's third goal.
MF Sergio Busquets, 8 -- With the experience of Pique and Mascherano missing in defence, Busquets' role in front of a young centre-back pairing took on extra significance. Accepting the challenge, he produced a fine performance. The highlight was undoubtedly his trickery and pass to Iniesta in the build-up to the opening goal.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 -- Took a while to get into the game but finished strongly. The way he hassled and pressed was important, and he produced a fine cross for Neymar to ease Barca's nerves after Las Palmas had pulled a goal back.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- A captain's performance. Still not at his best, but this was a display that will silence the doubters who suggest his career at the top level is coming to an abrupt end.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- The Argentine's standards are so high that you often feel let down if he doesn't score, assist or do something really special. That was the case here, but he was still influential to Barca's play, creating chances and missing some of his own.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Unselfishly set up Neymar for the opening goal and then scored his own with a clever finish when one-on-one with Javi Varas. A nuisance for the Las Palmas defence right up until he was taken off with 10 minutes to go.
FW Neymar, 9 -- Hasn't scored as many goals this season but came up with three important efforts here. Opened the scoring with a tap-in and then headed home the crucial third in the second half. Completed his treble with a smart, prodded finish to take his tally for the season to 19. Just as impressive as his goals, though, was his pass for Suarez's tally.
MF Andre Gomes, 5 -- Came on for Digne with over half an hour to play, but once again looked sluggish and unfamiliar with the role he was asked to play.
MF Denis Suarez, NR -- A token appearance late on, replacing Rakitic.
FW Paco Alcacer, NR -- Came on after the game had been won, with Luis Enrique giving him 10 minutes in place of Suarez.