CORNELLA DE LLOBREGAT, Spain – Neymar and Lionel Messi scored a goal apiece in the first half for league-leading FC Barcelona, which cruised to a 2-0 road win on Saturday over Espanyol to remain on track for the club’s 23rd La Liga title.
Despite playing short-handed for most of the second half after Jordi Alba was sent off, the Catalans were never in danger against their crosstown rival and continued their undefeated run at Power8 Stadium, where they now have a record of four wins, two draws and no losses over the past six seasons.
Barcelona, which came into the match with a slim two-point lead over Real Madrid, knew what was at stake on Saturday and came out with maximum intensity from the outset.
Barça excelled in all facets of the game in the early going, applying pressure with its superstar strikers but also functioning like clockwork in midfield and playing solid defense.
Neymar and Luis Suarez both had excellent chances in the first 11 minutes and teamed up to open the scoring six minutes later.
Messi initiated the play with a long-range pass to Jordi Alba, who booted it across the penalty area; Suarez could have taken the shot but instead let it run through to an unmarked Neymar, who knocked home the easy attempt from close range.
The goal was well-deserved considering Barcelona’s huge advantage (80-20) in time of possession at the time.
Six minutes later, Barcelona effectively wrapped up the victory when Suarez scooted a pass across the area to Messi, who in inimitable fashion gathered the ball and sent it past Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla from a difficult angle.
The Periquitos screamed for Suarez to be called offside but to no avail.
Espanyol showed some pride after falling behind by two goals and somewhat improved the ball-possession ratio over the final hour of play, thanks also to Barcelona’s more defensive-minded approach.
The second half was only notable, however, for Alba being sent off for vociferously protesting a yellow card and Xavi Hernandez making his 500th La Liga appearance.
The Spaniard, who has played his entire career with Barcelona, reached that milestone when he came on as a replacement for Andres Iniesta in the 87th minute.
With the win, Barcelona increased its point tally to 81, five more than Real Madrid, with five games remaining in the 2014-2015 La Liga season.
The Blancos can cut that margin back to two, however, with a win on Sunday at Celta Vigo.
Espanyol is in the middle of the pack in La Liga with 42 points, having little chance of qualifying for next season’s Europa League but also in no danger of relegation.