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After the midweek draw with Atlético Madrid, FC Barcelona got back to winning ways in their tricky trip to El Molinón against Sporting Gijón.
With Leo Messi out through injury, it was up to Luis Enrique’s abundant squad to show they could handle the challenge in the absence of their talisman, and they delivered with devastating efficiency.
Though it was a homecoming for the local hero, Sporting were not prepared to lie down for the Barça manager. Gijón boss Abelardo, a lifelong friend of Luis Enrique’s, warned that Barça had the resources to fill the void of Messi, and he was proven right, though it was no easy affair.
With the stadium rocking ahead of kick-off, it took a fair chunk of the first half for Barça to settle into the game.
No sooner than the game had calmed down after around 20 minutes, the crowd would be on their feet again, as a deep outswinging cross carried out of the box by Marc-Andre ter Stegen for a free-kick.
Suárez settles the nerves
It was a nervy moment for the keeper, and for the Barça side too, but they were settled minutes later when Arda Turan’s fine lofted ball over the top played Luis Suárez through on goal who then beat the advancing keeper before rolling it into the net for 1-0.
Much like Arda’s assist, it was not vintage Barça, in what had been a scrappy, end-to-end game start to the half, but it was effective.
Two in two for Rafa
Luis Enrique made five changes to the starting eleven that drew with Atlético Madrid in midweek. One of those was Rafinha, who started in place of Messi, and the Brazilian justified his selection when, on 32 minutes, he stooped to head home Sergi Roberto’s precise cross, to score for the second away game running.
Despite being two goals down, the home side refused to give in as they emerged from the tunnel as hungry as ever to reduce the deficit.
But try as they might, any chance of them getting back into the game were all but over when captain Alberto Lora chopped Sergi Roberto for his second yellow of the game to leave his side a man short with 15 minutes to go.
With the trip to Borussia Monchengladbach looming for Luis Enrique, it was not just a matter of game management but also squad management, as he subbed Busquets and Luis Suárez either side of the hour mark.
Sergi steals the show
He rarely gets the headlines, but Sergi Roberto’s marauding runs down the right touchline combined with his pinpoint crossing were constant throughout the game.
The Reus-born player whipped in a beauty for Paco Alcacer who connected well with his effort, only for it to cannon off the crossbar. Thankfully, it fell kindly into the path of Neymar who calmly chested the ball down before tapping into the net for 3-0.
On 85 minutes, it was that man Sergi Roberto the architect once again, digging out yet another pinpoint cross, this time for Arda, who couldn’t miss from a few yards out as the floodgates opened at El Molinón.
Just like in the last away game against Leganés, there was time for a fifth, when substitute Denis Suárez threaded a neat pass through to Neymar who slid the ball beyond the keeper to wrap up Barça’s third away win of the season.
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