Lionel Messi, Neymar power Barcelona past Elche in drubbing
Lionel Messi and Neymar each scored braces as Barcelona eviscerated struggling Elche 6-0 to keep the pressure on leaders Real Madrid.
The Catalans needed 36 minutes to break the deadlock through Gerard Pique but dominated the second half, particularly after Elche midfielder Faycal Fajr was sent off in the 57th minute.
Neymar and Messi then set about ravaging their opponents, while Pedro scored the final goal of the game in injury time.
This is the last time the two sides will face each other this season and Elche must be relieved to see the back of the Blaugranas, having conceded a total of 18 goals and scoring none in the four times they have met.
Luis Enrique named a very different team from the side that beat Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, resting birthday boy Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in favour of Pedro, Martin Montoya, Xavi Hernandez and Marc Bartra.
Elche had taken seven points from their first three league games in 2015 but nearly fell behind after a quarter of an hour, when Jordi Alba volleyed a cross from a free-kick just over the bar.
Messi also shot narrowly over the bar, this time from a direct free-kick, but midway through the first half Fajr managed to test Barca stopper Claudio Bravo twice in the space of a few minutes, first from inside the area and then from a free-kick.
However, Barcelona were getting closer and closer to scoring. Messi played a perfect diagonal ball towards Neymar at the far post but the Brazilian was left blushing as he completely failed to connect with the pass.
The opening goal finally arrived nine minutes before the break, with Pique controlling a Xavi free-kick with his chest and slamming the ball into the net with the help of a deflection. The defender has now scored more league goals than Suarez this season.
Barca put the game beyond Elche’s reach 10 minutes into the second half when Neymar was felled by Sergio Pelegrin and Messi converted the subsequent penalty.
The visitors’ task was made even easier when Fajr received a second yellow card and left his side with 10 men.
That was the cue for Barca to turn on the style. Messi eased his way past a defender and slipped the ball into the path of Neymar, who slotted effortlessly into the far corner.
And two minutes later the two forwards combined again to devastating effect. Neymar played a short pass to Messi and the Argentinian chipped the ball back across for his team-mate to volley into the top corner from six yards out.
After providing two generous assists, it was only fair that Messi scored again.
Barca’s all-time top scorer skipped his way past an Elche defender and into the area to dispatch the ball into the far bottom corner.
But there was still time for one last goal. Neymar toyed with two Elche defenders on the right wing and then laid the ball on a plate for Pedro to tap in number six.