Barcelona moved back to the top of La Liga ahead of Real Madrid’s meeting with Las Palmas and they only needed a 45-minute shift from Luis Suarez, and an hour from Lionel Messi to do so.
It was 3-1 and game over by half time as Barcelona played some of their best football and Luis Enrique’s name was sung by some, and whistled and jeered by no-one.
In a week’s time Paris Saint-Germain will be in town and a 6-1 result will see Barcelona through. Not that the French champions are likely to defend as Sporting did here.
No matter; for now it’s all smiles again at the Camp Nou after a riot of good football and great finishing.
The first goal was an all-Argentina production. There is a crossroads in the Northern Argentine City of Tucamen where the streets are named after Messi and Javier Mascherano – the pair were definitely on the same GPS on nine minutes when Mascherano, found himself in the right back position and from there dinked a pass over the top of Sporting Gijon’s defence for Messi to finish.
The visitors were attempting to play offside but Barcelona’s number 10 just jogged between the two centre-backs and, barely needing to jump, nodded the ball over the advancing Sporting keeper Ivan Cuellar. It was his 21st league goal of the season and surely his easiest.
It was proving more difficult than ever to see what formation Barcelona were playing with Mascherano, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba at the back when they were attacking, with four in midfield and three up.
There was plenty of movement however and it was that movement that did for Sporting as the second goal went in.
This time it was Neymar’s pass and Suarez run and finish, and once again it was Sporting’s shocking attempt at playing offside.
The ball was diverted over the line by Juan Rodriguez and is likely to be credited to the defender but Suarez took the plaudits from his team-mates.
Sporting had not won here in 30 years and this was a terrible start but they were buoyed on 21 minutes when they pulled it back to 2-1.
This time the through ball was from Burgui and when Sergio Alvarez’ shot came back off the post Carlos Castro reacted more quickly than Umtiti to send it over the line.
The two-goal deficit was quickly restored. Sporting were defending like a team who are one off the bottom and had only won once away all season. Jean-Sylvian Babin headed the ball up instead of away and Luis Suarez was unchallenged to thunder it past Cuellar on the volley.
Neymar could have made it four just before half time with a driving run down the left. He had Messi through the middle but went for the shot and was denied by Cuellar’s outstretched left boot.
Suarez did not reappear to torment Sporting further. He will be needed at the weekend against Celta Vigo and then next week in the Champions League.
Paco Alcacer came on in his place. No one has played fewer minutes so far this season. No one needed a confidence boosting goal more and it came for him in just four minutes.
Babin gift-wrapped another ball in the area, this time to Messi and he found Alcacer who scored his second goal of the season.
The singing section behind the goal was now loudly proclaiming Enrique’s name and the rest of the stadium respectfully observed. When they tried that a week ago the chants were whistled down. Time heals even 4-0 defeats to PSG.
Such was the mood that Messi took an early cut, substituted on the hour with Barcelona in total control of the game. So no Suarez and no Messi – what could possibly go wrong for Sporting now? Neymar curled a picture-book free-kick past Cuellar leaving the keeper tangled up in his own net and it was five.
Ivan Rakitic smashed the sixth goal in as the clock ran down and Barcelona left the field as leaders in a title race that does not look like ending any time sooner.