Football: Messi, Suarez and Neymar combine to down Villarreal

Messi (right) celebrates a goal beside Suarez (left) and Neymar (centre).
Messi (right) celebrates a goal beside Suarez (left) and Neymar (centre).PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (REUTERS) - Barcelona’s formidable front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all scored as the champions beat Villarreal 4-1 on Saturday (May 6) to stay top of La Liga and keep the pressure on title rivals Real Madrid. Barca top the standings with 84 points after 36 games, three ahead of Real who have played two games fewer and were visiting already-relegated Granada later on Saturday.

Neymar was in sensational form in his second game back from suspension and nudged Barcelona ahead in the 21st minute after pouncing on a deflected pass from Messi.

Cedric Bakambu fired Villarreal level in the 32nd after beating the offside trap to latch on to a clever through ball from Roberto Soldado.

Barca were temporarily punctured by the leveller but a marvellous piece of skill from Messi allowed them to restore their lead on the stroke of halftime with a shot from the Argentine which flew beyond Andres Fernandez with the help of a deflection.

Suarez powered the ball under the Villarreal goalkeeper in the 69th to score his third goal in two games and the 100th for the feted front three this campaign, while Messi grabbed the fourth with a deft chip from the penalty spot in the 82nd.

Messi’s penalty inflicted the heaviest league defeat of the season on Villarreal, who have the second-best defence in La Liga.

“We played very well with and without the ball and scoring four goals against this Villarreal side shows how well we did. Our pressure was key and we produced a complete performance against a great side,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told reporters.

Atletico Madrid beat Eibar 1-0 with a second-half strike from Saul Niguez to move five points clear of fourth-placed Sevilla and tighten their grip on the last automatic Champions League berth.

Saul met a cutback from Diego Godin first time to send the ball into the bottom corner in the 69th minute. Uruguayan defender Godin was sent off in injury time for picking up two bookings inside three minutes.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone made just two changes from the side that were thrashed 3-0 by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday, resting only Kevin Gameiro for next week’s semi-final second leg, although Stefan Savic was suspended.

Sporting Gijon kept up their slim hopes of survival by beating Las Palmas 1-0, moving three points behind Leganes who occupy the final spot outside the relegation zone and host Real Betis on Monday.