MADRID (REUTERS) - Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each scored as champions Barcelona thrashed basement club Sporting Gijon 6-1 on Wednesday (March 1) to go provisionally top of La Liga and banish any lingering doubts about their recent stuttering form.
Messi scored for the fifth league game in a row to put Barca ahead in the ninth minute, heading Javier Mascherano's floated pass over goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar, who had woefully misjudged the flight of the ball.
Sporting defender Juan Rodriguez clumsily knocked Suarez's angled shot into his own net to double Barca's advantage two minutes later although Carlos Castro pulled one back for the visitors in the 21st minute from close range.
Suarez restored Barca's two-goal lead by ruthlessly volleying an aerial ball in off the post in the 28th and was taken off at halftime, replaced by Paco Alcacer who got the fourth goal four minutes into the second half following a lay off from Messi.
Barca had only scraped 2-1 wins over Leganes and Atletico Madrid, thanks to late winners from Messi, in their two games since their harrowing 4-0 defeat to Paris St Germain in the Champions League, but got back into their groove against a Sporting side who are 18th in the standings and battling relegation.
Neymar struck a fifth in the 66th minute by curling a free kick inside the near post and Ivan Rakitic capped a resounding attacking display by flicking up and thumping home from inside the area in the 87th.
Barca top the standings on 57 points, two ahead of Real Madrid, who have played two games fewer and can return to the summit when they host Las Palmas later on Wednesday.