Lionel Messi misses cancelled out by rousing Luis Suarez, Paulinho outings
Barcelona got in the mood for next week's Clasico by thumping Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 with doubles from both Paulinho and Luis Suarez.
Lionel Messi had a hapless night in front of goal, hitting the woodwork three times and seeing his penalty saved by his old Barca B teammate Ruben Martinez, as well as missing the target from a good position in either half, but still played a key role in the victory.
Barca had looked underwhelming in their previous three games but this was a complete performance from the Liga leaders which will lift their confidence for the crunch visit to the Santiago Bernabeu. Suarez is hitting form just at the right time and has now scored three times in his past four games, while Paulinho continued to prove the doubters wrong.
Paco Alcacer's injury was cruel on the former Valencia striker as he was just starting to settle into the team in his second campaign. The muscle problem rules him out for three weeks and deprives Ernesto Valverde of another attacking option for the Clasico, with Ousmane Dembele still injured.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Valverde made the right call in refusing to risk Sergio Busquets getting a booking that would rule him out of the game in Madrid, and playing Sergi Roberto over Nelson Semedo also paid off. Bringing on Aleix Vidal for the injured Alcacer also worked well, and there was no drop off in the team's performance after he removed Andres Iniesta for Andre Gomes.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Enjoyed an unusually quiet 90 minutes, a welcome break from having to repeatedly put out fires in the past few league games.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Got forward a lot and set up Suarez's second goal. Looks a sure starter in the Clasico ahead of Aleix Vidal and Nelson Semedo.
DF Gerard Pique, 6 -- Gave a solid performance, starting plenty of attacks as he met little resistance from Deportivo's feeble attack.
DF Thomas Vermaelen, 6 -- Had little to deal with and mostly looked assured although showed indecision on a couple of occasions, lapses he will need to eradicate next week at the Bernabeu.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 -- Continued his resurgent season, constantly supporting the attack, especially with passes to Messi, and also was rarely out of position at the back. Hit the post late on, which lead to Paulinho netting the fourth.
MF Paco Alcacer, NR -- Made a lively start but had to be taken off midway through the first half with a muscle injury.
MF Paulinho, 8 -- The Brazilian is developing a reputation for consistently appearing at the right place at the right time, which he did for both of his goals. Who would have guessed after his much maligned €40 million signing that the Tottenham misfit would be Barca's third top scorer, on six goals, a week before Christmas?
MF Ivan Rakitic, 6 -- Deployed as the holding midfielder so Busquets could sit the game out with no risk of suspension, the Croatian did a decent enough job without quite providing the same control as the Spaniard.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- Controlled the game for the 56 minutes he was on the pitch in his first game back from injury and was the catalyst for the opening goal with an incisive pass to Messi.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Hitting form just at the right time of the season and scored for the fourth time in three games, as well as winning the penalty which Messi squandered. Will still be disappointed not to have struck a hat-trick goal and showed he is still not quite the predator of two seasons ago as he failed to successfully dribble past Ruben Martinez when he was played in.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- Was everywhere throughout the game and selflessly set up Suarez's opener, when he could easily have scored himself, but he loses marks for his wayward shooting. It was not just the three attempts off the woodwork or the saved penalty, but clear chances in either half when he missed the target from inside the area.
MF Aleix Vidal, 7 - Gave the team plenty of thrust in attack after replacing Alcacer and perhaps should have scored in the first half when the ball dropped his way but he couldn't strike it cleanly and Martinez saved easily.
MF Andre Gomes, 6 - Replaced Iniesta, and for once Barca played just as well with the Portuguese on the pitch.
DF Lucas Digne, NR - Came on for Alba for the remaining nine minutes.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.