Prematch, Luis Enrique sprung somewhat of a tactical surprise as he sent the team out in a 3-4-3 formation rather than the standard 4-3-3. Javier Mascherano, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba were the three central defenders but in contrast to what others do with the same formation, there were no wing backs. Instead, Enrique went for a four man midfield of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić, Rafinha and Denis Suárez with Busquets dropping deep to complete the back four when Barça weren’t in possession.
The game started with the away side on top as Barcelona settled into the less than familiar formation. However, it was the Catalans who had the first shot of the game. Rafinha picked up the ball on the right edge of the penalty area and attempted a Messi-esque curl into the far corner but unlike the Argentine, Rafinha lifted it over.
With Rafinha to his right, Lionel Messi was playing more centrally that he usually does and it was from this position that he scored the game’s opening goal. Mascherano spotted the run of Messi directly through the middle of the field and lofted the ball over the defence to find him. The keeper rushed to meet him but left it too late to charge and Messi was able to head the ball up and over him into the net. It was a superbly timed run that had no hint of offside.
Sporting looked unwilling to press on Barcelona and the Catalans were able to play their game. Two minutes after their opener, Barça doubled their lead. Neymar was the provider as Luis Suárez broke the offside trap again. He took it round the keeper but that left him with a tight angle and all he could do was fire it back across goal. Juan Rodriguez was the unfortunate defender in the middle who couldn’t get his legs out of the way in time and the ball collided with him on its way into the net.
The game was looking like it could get ugly but with 21 minutes on the clock, the away side pulled one back. Taking advantage of the unfamiliar formation, Sporting worked space in-between Mascherano and Umtiti. Busquets dropped deep but could not stop Burgui from toe-poking the ball towards goal. The effort hit the post but Castro was the quickest to the rebound and converted the ball into the net.
Seemingly annoyed that they’d lost their two goal cushion, Barcelona came out flying. Rakitić had a chance from a corner which he headed into a defender but after 27 minutes Suárez restored the lead. A Rakitić cross was poorly dealt with by Jean-Sylbain Babin who headed it up and towards a free Suárez. The Uruguayan had the time to set himself before blasting a volley into the net. It was suicidal defending from Gijón in both the clearance and the marking.
Barcelona continued to press for goals but the half time whistle blew at 3-1 to the hosts.
With the game firmly in Barcelona’s favour, Enrique swapped out Luis Suárez for Paco Alcácer and five minutes after his introduction, the Spaniard score his second league goal of the season. Babin spent too long on the ball instead of putting his foot through it and Messi was able to steal it. He slid the ball across to Alcácer who placed it into the right side of the goal.
Despite being 4-1 up, Barcelona continued to search for goals. Denis Suárez was fouled inside of the D and the free kick was given. It was too close for Messi’s standard up and down free kick so he elected to dink it over. The ball clipped the corner of the post and the bar on its way out. That proved to be Messi’s last involvement as he was substituted on the hour mark for André Gomes.
Neymar was the only surviving member of the MSN trident and was stepping it up for the home crowd. After a few neat dribbles, he stepped up to take a free kick. He wrapped his foot round the ball and hit it hard over the wall and into the corner. The keeper had no chance with the pace and precision on the ball. With a 5-1 scoreline, Barcelona comfortably saw out the final stages of the game.
There was just time for a late Rakitić goal. A quick one-two with Sergi Roberto allowed Rakitić to fire the ball in at the near post into the roof of the net. The final whistle blew at 6-1. Despite the changes, it was one way traffic from minute one and a comfortable three points for Barça.