Barcelona dismantled Athletic Bilbao 6-0 at the Camp Nou on Sunday to keep pace with their La Liga title rivals thanks to a Luis Suarez hat-trick.
Los Leones were up against it from the start, when goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz was sent off after just four minutes, and each of Barca's attacking trident—Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez—had got on the scoresheet in that order by the 47th minute.
Ivan Rakitic then got in on the act before Suarez grabbed two more as Barca pushed forward again and again, 10-man Athletic hapless in the face of some supreme attacking play.
The game was essentially over as a contest inside five minutes when Iraizoz brought down Suarez inside the area and Bilbao were hit with the triple punishment of a red card and a suspension for the stopper and a penalty, which Messi duly dispatched.
Football journalist Dermot Corrigan shared the phenomenal number of penalties awarded to the Catalan giants this season:
Barca been awarded 10 penalties so far this season in La Liga, Madrid have had 5, Atletico 1 [which was missed].— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 17, 2016
As expected, the hosts proceeded to dominate the ball, and Suarez could have made it 2-0, but curled his effort from the edge of the box over the bar.
At the other end, Oscar de Marcos raced onto a through pass, only to be closed down well by Claudio Bravo, but the foray forward proved a rare occurrence. Rakitic and Neymar both volleyed high before Aleix Vidal's shot from distance also cleared the crossbar.
As noted by Corrigan and Spanish football expert Sergi Dominguez, Neymar continued to run riot with some expert dribbling skills:
Neymar brings out the 'rabona' control of long dropping ball again... just 34 mins gone... gonna be long night for Athletic defence...— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 17, 2016
THAT Neymar ball control is his trademark. Done it multiple times this season.— Sergi Domínguez (@FutbolSergi) January 17, 2016
Neymar's hobby is breaking ankles.— Sergi Domínguez (@FutbolSergi) January 17, 2016
The forward quickly got on the scoresheet himself.
After another brief push up field from Athletic, the Blaugrana countered at pace through Suarez, and the Uruguayan picked out Neymar with a lovely pass. The Brazilian then expertly finished with a delightful dink over keeper Iago Herrerin. OptaJose revealed the extent of Neymar's incredible form:
31 - Neymar has had a hand in 31 goals in his 24 appearances for @FCBarcelona this season (19 goals, 12 assists, all comps). Samba.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 17, 2016
Just two minutes into the second half, the pair combined again with a magnificent one-two that resulted in Suarez tapping home Barca's third. Corrigan was in awe of their chemistry:
That's just pretty special interplay between Neymar and Suarez ... Athletic defenders were there, but just couldnt do anything to stop em.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) January 17, 2016
Shortly after the hour-mark, Neymar made a break for the byline with some sublime footwork before cutting back for Rakitic to finish from close range.
Seven minutes later, Suarez earned his second of the night when he expertly chested down substitute Arda Turan's floated delivery and touched it past Herrerin.
Despite the result being in no doubt whatsoever, Barca remained unrelenting in their pursuit of further goals as they dominated the ball and continued to create chances, and it was Suarez who made the breakthrough yet again.
The Uruguayan made it 6-0 and completed his hat-trick in the 83rd minute, when he headed home Sergio Busquets' teasing cross. Squawka Football highlighted his majestic campaign:
Make that 29 goals in 29 games this season for Luis Suárez at Barcelona. Our fingers hurt trying to keep up here!— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 17, 2016
Barca are now two points behind Atletico Madrid and ahead of Real Madrid by the same margin, still with a game in hand after missing a weekend in December to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.
The Blaugrana travel to Malaga in their next league outing, where they face the task of breaking down the Albicelestes' solid defence.
Manager Javi Gracia's side equally don't score many, though, so Barca aren't likely to be troubled too much at the back, and on Sunday's evidence, they'll have little problem getting on the scoresheet themselves.
Per AS English, Barcelona boss Luis Enrique admitted he sympathised with Athletic after Iraizoz's early sending off:
Luis Enrique: "The game took a completely different course after the sending-off, it's unpleasant for a game to start like that".— AS English (@English_AS) January 17, 2016
Luis Enrique: "The red card was excessive - but those are the rules and the referee has to apply them..."— AS English (@English_AS) January 17, 2016
According to AS, he also commented on Dani Alves' exclusion from the starting lineup: "We don't leave players out of the team to teach them a lesson here. I'm delighted with Dani Alves, he's a unique player."