A second half double from Ivan Rakitic helped Barcelona see off BATE Borisov in Belarus on Tuesday night.
The Croatian started on the bench, but replaced the injured Sergi Roberto in the first half and scored both goals in the 2-0 win. Afer a slow start to the season, it could provide the lift his campaign needs.
He was indebted to Neymar for both goals, with the Barça No.11 turning on the style to lay on the assists for each strike.
With Roma and Bayer Leverkusen drawing in Germany, it leaves Barcelona with a three point cushion at the top of the group.
Syarhey Chernik was the star of the first half, regularly thwarting Barcelona’s Lionel Messi-less attack. He’d already saved from Neymar when he tipped a Luis Suarez header over the bar as Luis Enrique’s side did all the attacking.
Munir was next to be denied by the goalkeeper as Barça must have wondered what they had to do to break down the home side. Even Alves came close, but his lofted effort was palmed behind for a corner.
In the middle of all the attempts on goal, Sergi Roberto had to leave the pitch injured, with Rakitic coming on in his place. With Rafinha, Andres Iniesta and Messi already sidelined, the Catalan side will hope the midfielder-cum-right-back is not out of action for a long period of time.
Rakitic’s introduction, though, would prove to be the difference. If Chernik was the star of the first half, the second half was all about the Croatian midfielder – with a little help from Neymar.
Just three minutes of the second half had passed when he gave Barça the lead. Neymar jinked in from the right, unslefishly rolling the ball off to Rakitic, who produced a fine finish. Steadying himself from the edge of the box, he fired into the top corner.
It was what Barça deserved and it was what Rakitic needed. Named on the Ballon d’Or shortlist on Tuesday, his performances so far this season were presumably not the reason why. However, here he at last began to show the form from his first season in Catalonia.
His second goal followed less than 20 minutes later and was again created by Neymar, who following his goal scoring heroics on Saturday turned chief creator here. The Brazilian found the gaps in BATE box, spotting Rakitic on the right side, who this time produced a tasty dinked finish.
With a two-goal cushion, Barça slowed down. Luis Enrique brought on Sandro Ramirez and Gerard Gumbau, with captain Sergio Busquets given a breather ahead of Sunday’s game with Eibar.