Barca keep the pressure on Real

Weaving a path past his opponents, Barcelona's Neymar played a vital role in his side's 4-1 win against Villarreal to keep title rivals Real Madrid on their toes.
Weaving a path past his opponents, Barcelona's Neymar played a vital role in his side's 4-1 win against Villarreal to keep title rivals Real Madrid on their toes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Enrique delighted with Neymar's role as Brazilian sets up easy win against Villarreal

BARCELONA • An inspired Neymar led Barcelona's 4-1 thrashing of Villarreal in the Spanish LaLiga on Saturday with a performance that coach Luis Enrique said proved the Brazilian is in a class of his own.

Champions Barca temporarily went three points ahead of Real Madrid as Neymar and fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez combined to see off an in-form Villarreal.

Real then produced a ruthless first-half display to thrash already-relegated Granada 4-0 to remain on course for a first league title in five years.

Real are level on 84 points with Barca, who lead the standings due to their superior head-to-head record.

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Real have a game in hand, however, and will win a first domestic title since 2012 if they take seven points from their remaining three games.

At the Nou Camp, Barca went ahead in the 21st minute when Neymar ran onto a deflected pass from Messi to score, and the forward was a constant threat down the left, delighting the crowd with his dazzling footwork.

Messi scored twice to take his tally to 51 goals in all competitions but it was Neymar, with 10 league goals and 10 assists this campaign, who stole the show.

"Any football fan has to appreciate what Neymar does, which sometimes seems more like ballet than dribbling. It's beautiful, it's effective and it's spectacular," Barca coach Luis Enrique said.

"It's a huge pleasure to watch him. Time will tell if he can define an era. Neymar interprets football completely differently than other players, even other Brazilians."

Barca defender Gerard Pique added that football needed players like Neymar.

"He's magical, although we're in an era in which it seems that magic is penalised and kicking is seen as better than providing a spectacle," he said. "Players like Neymar make football much better."

The Catalans' hopes of winning a third straight title now rest on Real losing one of their remaining games.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane continued his rotation policy of recent weeks, with nine changes to the side that beat Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday. Hat-trick hero Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of the squad entirely.

However, it mattered little as Real maintained their perfect record in nine league games without Ronaldo this season, with a brace each from James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata.

"For a coach (this result) is the best possible news," said Zidane.

"It means that everyone is involved, in good physical condition, every time they get a chance to play they do well. I can only be satisfied with that."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Barca keep the pressure on Real'. Print Edition | Subscribe