Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were all on the scoresheet as Barcelona returned to the top of La Liga with a crushing win
A comfortable win for Barcelona, Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all on the scoresheet. They go top, but for how long? Real Madrid are in action now against Las Palmas. Thanks for reading. Bye.
90 min: Two minutes of the added stuff.
With everyone getting a little bit bored, Ivan Rakitic decides to score. He combines with Sergi Roberto on the right, receiving the ball back from the youngster, flicking it in the air and lashing a venomous shot high past Cuellar from close range.
85 min: Barcelona are playing out time here.
81 min: Jordi Alba curls against the post, but the flag’s up for offside. Just as well he didn’t score: he was onside.
80 min: A loose ball drops to Neymar on the left, but he blazes miles wide.
78 min: Rakitic plays a one-two with Alcacer and shoots low and accurately from 20 yards. Cuellar just tips it wide.
77 min: This game has been over as a contest since the
first whistle tenth minute. Sporting’s minds are elsewhere.
74 min: Sergi Roberto replaces Rafinha.
72 min: Neymar bounces a curler straight at Cuellar from the left.
70 min: As it stands, and it’s probably not going to change, Barcelona are going top. Real Madrid kick off against Las Palmas soon.
Neymar finally has the goal he deserves and it’s a brilliant one. A free-kick to Barcelona, a few yards to the right of the D. It doesn’t look like it’s made for a right footer. So you’d have to think. But Neymar whips it viciously over the wall and high inside the near post. Woof! He’s pleased with himself.
61 min: Andre Gomes replaces Leo Messi, who’s earned a rest.
60 min: Isma Lopez replaces Burgui.
59 min: Messi audaciously goes for an unorthodox, casually dinked effort with his left foot. It floats an inch over.
58 min: Victor Rodriguez chops Denis Suarez down on the edge of the Sporting area. Messi fancies it.
55 min: Juan Rodriguez, enraged by Neymar’s skills on the left, boots the Brazilian up the backside well after the ball’s gone. Yellow card.
53 min: Neymar, desperate a for a goal, desperately slashes high and wide from the left of the area.
51 min: Messi tries to place one into the left corner. It’s deflected wide.
Babin cuts out a pass through to Messi, but then he dawdles on it. Messi ruthlessly picks his pocket and pops it to his left for Paco Alcacer, who hammers a firm shot into the left corner with his left foot.
48 min: The problem with having players like Messi, Suarez and Neymar - if there is a problem with having players like Messi, Suarez and Neymar - is the lack of opportunities it affords players like Paco Alcacer. How do you keep your squad hungry and happy?
46 min: Barcelona get the second half underway. Paco Alcacer has replaced Luis Suarez. Victor Rodriguez is on for Douglas.
See you in 15 minutes.
45 min+1: Neymar picks up a booking for dissent.
43 min: Straight up the other end, Neymar motors away down the left after a Sporting mistake breaks down and Lillo presents him with the ball with a poor header. Neymar speeds into the area, opens up his body and aims for the far corner, only for Cuellar to save with his feet. Rafinha can’t do anything with the rebound.
42 min: Burgui cuts inside and lets fly with his right foot. Ter Stegen pushes it aside and Alba reacts quickly to deny Castro another tap-in.
39 min: “It’s odd about Busquets,” says Charles Antaki. “He’s looked well off his feed recently - the other day he misplaced three passes in succession - and you’d say he was just getting old. But he’s what, 28, 29? Barcelona can hardly afford him not come back to the boil, given the patchiness of Rafinha and Rakitic (leaving aside Andre Gomes’s entertainingly spectacular badness).”
38 min: Suarez rams a shot straight at Cuellar from long range.
36 min: Burgui politely asks the referee whether Javier Mascherano’s just handled in the Barcelona area. There’s no controversy here. It hit Mascherano on the chest.
33 min: A replay of Barcelona’s second goal confirms that it was an own-goal. So Luis Suarez is two away from his hat-trick.
30 min: Possession update: Barcelona 71-29 Sporting Gijon.
29 min: Messi picks out Neymar’s run on the left, but the Brazilian’s stretching as he makes contact with the ball and can’t set up Suarez for a simple tap-in.
If there was doubt over Luis Suarez’s first goal, there’s none over this one A poor clearing header from Babin drops to Suarez, who watches the ball from the air and sets himself perfectly before larrumping a vicious volley past the helpless Cuellar. Wow.
25 min: Messi combines with Suarez, whose sees a low shot deflected behind for a corner. From Neymar’s corner, Rakitic has a free header, but it’s blocked and eventually cleared.
24 min: Burgui picks up a booking for bringing down Messi from behind.
Dramatic tension: back! Burgui spots Sergio Alvarez peeling away from Sergio Busquets and releases him behind the Barcelona defence on the left. Through on goal, the midfielder pokes past Ter Stegen with the outside of his right foot. In slow motion, the ball rolls against the left post and Castro taps in the rebound.
21 min: Messi opens Sporting up with a superb scooped pass with the outside of his left foot on the edge of the area, but Rafinha’s first touch is a tad heavy, forcing him to slash wide with his second from close range.
18 min: Dramatic tension: non-existent.
17 min: Looking at the replays of the second goal, it might go down as a Juan Rodriguez own goal. It’s not clear that Suarez’s shot was heading on target.
15 min: “I used to read FourFourTwo but am wondering if I’m behind the times and should look for more cutting-edge, hip reading such as FourThreeThree or ThreeFourThree,” says Peter Oh. “My guess is that every issue of the latter has Antonio Conte’s mug on the cover.”
13 min: Neymar lollops forward, skipping down the left and putting the fear of God into the Sporting defence. But his shot’s blocked.
In a seemingly harmless position on the left, Neymar reminds us that harm’s always possible when he’s on the ball. He slices Sporting open with a glorious inswinging pass through to Suarez, who rounds Cuellar and squeezes the ball goalwards from a tight angle on the left. The covering Juan Rodriguez only succeeds in pushing the ball over the line and this is going to get ugly.
Javier Mascherano spots Lionel Messi’s run from deep and lofts a pass over the Sporting defence. Messi’s played miles onside by Lillo, despite the protests from the visitors, and the flag stays down, allowing the little genius to loop a header over the advancing Cuellar and into the empty net. That didn’t take long.
6 min: Barcelona have the ball. Sporting have retreated into an expansive 9-0-0-0-0-0-1 system.
4 min: Maybe it’s a 3-4-3. Ah, it’s all just numbers in the end.
3 min: Rafinha, a midfielder by trade, might not have to defend too much tonight. Here’s Barcelona’s first attack. Messi finds Rafinha on the right and the youngster shifts the ball on to his left foot before sending a hopeful curler just wide of the far post.
2 min: Barcelona have lined up in a 4-3-3, after all, with Rafinha at right-back. Oh for a Dani Alves. Or Dani Alves.
And we’re off! Sporting Gijon, in red and white stripes, get the game underway. They’re kicking from right to left in the first half.
Here come the teams.
Sporting Gijon’s punishment The match is about to begin.
The signs are that Barcelona are playing a 3-4-3 again. How very Conte. It worked, sort of, against Atletico Madrid on Sunday and seems to have taken some of the pressure off Sergio Busquets, who had been struggling badly in the hallowed 4-3-3 system.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Umtiti, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rafinha, Denis, Rakitic; Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar. Subs: Cillessen, Pique, Iniesta, Paco Alcácer, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes.
Sporting Gijon: Cuellar; Lillo, Babin, Juan Rodriguez, Echiejile; Torres; Douglas, Cases, Sergio Alvarez, Burgui; Castro. Subs: Marino, Vesga, Lora, Lopez, Victor, Traore, Duje Cop.
Hello. Put on your tin foil hat, crush your smartphone to smithereens and read up on MSM bias, because it’s conspiracy time! Which is basically it’s just another way of describing a La Liga title race. As ever, it’s turning childish. Gerard Pique has been doing some investigating on the internet, an activity which never ends well, and took to Twitter after a controversial penalty helped Real Madrid beat Villarreal to point out that Barcelona’s title rivals have been getting a helping hand from Spain’s Howard Webbs. The Barcelona defender even backed up his argument by handpicking examples from the Madrid press, so before you say it he’s not biased okay, he’s just concerned about justice and fair play and anyway IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE, SHEEPLE, IT’S HAPPENING RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES. Madrid weren’t amused by Pique’s Twitter shenanigans, however. Sergio Ramos and Zinedine Zidane have muttered something about FAKE NEWS!!!!!!! in response. Ramos and Pique are Spain’s central defenders, so that’s nice.
Grown men, this lot. Extremely talented grown men, mind you. Because while they’re making a sorry show of themselves off the pitch, where it’s all about to kick off, it’s hotting up on it. A few weeks ago, it didn’t look like there was going to be much of a title race in Spain. Barcelona were reeling from their Champions League pasting in Paris and needed a last-minute penalty from a grumpy Leo Messi to beat Leganes at Camp Nou 10 days ago.
But it’s opened up in the past week. Last Wednesday, Madrid lost one of their spare games, going down 2-1 in a thrilling encounter with Valencia, and Barcelona briefly went top on Sunday after Messi’s late winner against Atletico Madrid. Sevilla, widely held to be the best team in Spain at the moment, stayed in the hunt with a win over Real Betis that allowed them to dream of their first title since 1946 and a frenetic day ended with Madrid fighting back from 2-0 down against Villarreal. Madrid are a point clear of Barcelona, while Sevilla are three points off the pace. Barcelona can keep the pressure on with a win over Sporting Gijon at Camp Nou, though. The visitors are 18th and have conceded 11 in their past two matches against the champions, so you’d think there’ll be no need for Pique to fire up his social media accounts later.
Kick-off: 6.30pm in London, 7.30pm in Barcelona.