Luis Suarez and Neymar. Neymar and Luis Suarez. The trio has become quite the duo in the absence of Lionel Messi. Admittedly harder tests await Luis Enrique’s side, but Suarez and Neymar’s current form has kept Barcelona smiling in the absence of their best player.
At Getafe on Saturday it was Suarez who opened the scoring and Neymar who added the second. At Camp Nou on Wednesday against BATE Borisov the roles were reversed. The Brazilian scored the first from the penalty spot, before turning provider for his Uruguayan colleague in the second half.
The only difference here was a third goal was forthcoming. Guess who was involved? Suarez peeling free down the right and squaring for Neymar to role home. Of the 20 goals scored since Messi hobbled off against Las Palmas, the South American duo account for 17.
In more good news for Luis Enrique, this was his side’s third consecutive clean sheet. Those shut outs may have only come against BATE, Getafe and Villanovense, but for a team who had been leaking far too many goals, the zeros will be warmly received.
Barça are now standing with almost two feet in the last 16 of the Champions League, too. Roma’s win over Bayer Leverkusen means they’re not through yet, but a point against the Italians later this month will not just confirm qualification, but top spot in the group.
The pre-match atmosphere was very much of the anti-Uefa variety. Angered by European football’s governing body’s decision to fine the Catalan club — for the second time, no less — for the presence of Esteladas at the recent win over Bayer Leverkusen, the supporters filled the ground with 30,000 of the pro-independence flags.
On top of that, there were loud jeers for the Champions League anthem. In fact, it felt like the hymn may even have been turned up just to try and drown out the obvious fact that Barcelona’s fans are far from impressed with the decision making at Uefa.
As for the football, the game was predictably one-sided. Sergi Roberto started on the right of the front three — perhaps with one eye on the Clasico — although that was an experiment which didn’t last long. An injury to Ivan Rakitic saw the early introduction of Munir EL Haddadi, with Roberto dropped back into the middle. It’s the fourth successive Champions League game which Barça have lost a midfielder in to injury.
Suarez and Neymar were central to everything. The latter’s pass created the first chance for the former, but the former Liverpool striker was unable to get his shot off. Neymar then fired a free-kick over, before being denied by the alert Sergei Chernik, who was quick off his line to cancel out a clever Suarez through ball.
Igor Stasevich tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the other end with a free-kick, but there was only ever one team truly likely to score. Munir soon danced down the touch line, played a one-two with Suarez and was tugged back in the area. Neymar, sporting a Lebron James-like headband, made no mistake from the penalty spot — he only needed one step.
It was more of the same after the break. One way traffic. Andres Iniesta, who impressed in midfield, saw a shot deflected wide for a corner, from which Suarez was denied at the far post by Chernik.
The BATE goalkeeper couldn’t deny the 28-year-old moments later, though. Fed by Neymar — who else? — Suarez shuffled the ball out from under his feet and poked the ball along the ground and into the back of the visitor’s goal. Game over. Those two again.
There was still time for a third as well. Roberto’s through ball fed Suarez in the right channel and when he squared for Neymar, the 23-year-old couldn’t miss.