BARCELONA: Luis Suarez scored twice and Lionel Messi continued his sensational form as Barcelona moved to within two points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) with a 5-0 rout of Las Palmas.
Madrid remain very much in pole position, though, with two games in hand, the first of which comes at third-placed Sevilla on Sunday.
Suarez opened the scoring after just 14 minutes, but Barca had to wait until early in the second-half to double their lead when Messi scored for the seventh straight game.
And Barca turned their domination into further goals as Suarez’s second, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal’s first goal for the club rounded off the scoring.
Victory eased a growing sense of unease around the Camp Nou this week with divisions between the squad and the club’s board over ongoing talks to extend Messi’s contract beyond 2018.
Suarez criticized Barca CEO’s Oscar Grau’s claims that the club must show financial “common sense” in negotiating the Argentine’s new deal, that looks set to make him the world’s highest paid player.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Pere Gratacos was sacked from his role as Barca’s director of institutional relations with the Spanish football federation for claiming Messi “wouldn’t be as good” without the help of his star teammates.
“I always say to Barca fans to be calm. I am personally handling Leo’s renewal,” said Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
“I have spoken a bit with his team. We will speak when there is news to give. For now things simply have to run their course.”
As if giving Messi the chance to prove Gratacos wrong, Barca boss Luis Enrique surprisingly left out a number of star names with Neymar and Andres Iniesta left on the bench and Gerard Pique out his squad altogether amidst a busy January of La Liga and Copa del Rey action.
However, unlike on many outings this season, Barca’s understudies rose to the occasion.
Portuguese international Andre Gomes has been much-criticized since his 35 million euro ($37 million) move from Valencia in July, but provided his first assist in a Barca shirt with a driven low cross that was swept home at the near post by Suarez.
“The club know what Leo wants,” Suarez told BeIN Sports Spain. “We are calm despite what has been said.”
Barca missed a host of chances to extend their lead before the break as Rafinha and Gomes fired off target with just Javi Varas in the Las Palmas goal to beat.
Varas then produced a stunning stop when one-on-one with Messi.
However, the ‘keeper was at fault when the second did finally arrive seven minutes into the second-half as he spilt Rafinha’s cross into the path of Messi to tap into an empty net to score his 27th goal in just 24 appearances this season.
Suarez added his second of the afternoon with a tidy finish into the far corner just before the hour mark.
Seconds later the Uruguayan should have sealed his hat-trick, but Turan slotted home the rebound after Varas denied Suarez as Barca struck three times in just six minutes.
Suarez was handed a break for the final 20 minutes as he was replaced by Paco Alcacer and the former Valencia captain teed up Vidal to slot home from just inside the area for the fifth 10 minutes from time.