Barcelona and manger Luis Enrique, in particular, earned some much-needed respite after a tumultuous week with an emphatic 5-0 victory over Elche in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie at the Camp Nou. Two goals from Neymar bookended strikes from the other members of their famed front three, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, as well as a an effort from Jordi Alba that effectively ensured Barcelona’s progression to the quarterfinals of a competition in which they were beaten in the final last season.
Enrique made eight changes from the lineup that lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad on Sunday, a result that was followed by the dismissal of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, resignation of Carles Puyol as well as president Josep Maria Bartomeu announcing early presidential elections this summer. It was also a week that saw pressure increase sharply on the shoulders of Enrique, with particular focus on his decision to start with Messi on the bench at the weekend and the reported fractious relationship between the pair.
It was no surprise then that Messi was back in the starting lineup on Thursday. The club’s all-time leading scorer received enthusiastic support from what was a perhaps tellingly sparse crowd at the massive Camp Nou. But those in attendance saw a much improved performance from their side, although admittedly against the team currently bottom of La Liga and with a relegation battle rather than Copa del Rey success at the forefront of their minds.
The breakthrough for Barcelona had to wait until the 35th minute, but the goals then came thick and fast. The first was an aesthetic treat, with Messi and Suarez both involved, as well as Sergio Roberto, before Neymar finished from the Uruguayan’s fine pass across the box. Five minutes later the lead was doubled, this time with Suarez doing the damage by himself. The big summer signing from Liverpool got just his fourth goal for the club after turning brilliantly past a defender then cutting inside another before expertly rolling a shot past the goalkeeper at his near post. The match and the tie were all-but sealed right before the half-time whistle when Neymar raced onto Messi’s pass before being brought down in the box by Enzo Roco, leaving the Argentinian with the chance to send Przemyslaw Tyton the wrong way from the spot.
The hosts kept the pressure on after the interval and soon had a fourth goal to celebrate. Messi was again the creator, playing another fine pass through the defense, this time to find the marauding Alba, who finished with a low right-footed effort. And the scoring was complete on the hour mark. Roco continued his night to forget as Neymar’s powerful effort from 25 yards flew off his back and pasty Tyton at his near post.