Substitute Neymar and Jordi Alba came to the rescue with second-half goals to give FC Barcelona a 2-1 comeback victory at Almeria on Saturday but Lionel Messi again just missed out in his bid to become La Liga’s all-time leading marksman.
With another unconvincing performance after two straight defeats in La Liga, Barca coach Luis Enrique was left relieved to stop the rot, especially after his surprise decision to start with both Neymar and Luis Suarez on the bench.
Both men were eventually to play a key role in the victory after Enrique’s plan had looked as if could backfire when Almeria took the lead in the 37th minute as Thievy Bifouma broke clear on the counter-attack and finished clinically.
When the South American strike pair came on after the break, the complexion of the game changed, with, first, Suarez hitting the bar as he sought to score his first goal for the club and then both he and Neymar combining for the equaliser.
After the Uruguayan’s cross in the 73rd minute was met at close range by his Brazilian team mate, Alba then bundled home the second from another Suarez pass eight minutes from the end.
Messi hit the crossbar in either half as the pressure seems to be building on him to equal Telmo Zarra’s La Liga scoring record of 251 goals.
The Argentine remains a goal short of the former Athletic Bilbao striker, having experienced the rare feeling of not having scored in his last three league games.
The victory put Barca top of the table with 25 points from 11 games before Real Madrid, a point behind, try to leapfrog them again later on Saturday by extending their winning run to 13 games against Rayo Vallecano.
“With the problems that Almeria caused us along with our own mistakes and lack of rhythm, the best thing is the result,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told reporters.
“Still we turned the game around and in order to have success you have to win even when you don’t play well like today.”
Messi was denied by a double save from keeper Ruben Martinez early on but it was Almeria who were causing plenty of problems for the visitors with their pace and strength in attack.
Midway through the first half Messi missed a golden chance as Ruben saved an Ivan Rakitic header and then the ball found its way to the Argentine, who headed against the underside of the crossbar with the goal glaring.
It was then Messi who gave the ball away in the run up to Almeria’s goal. Fernando Soriano found Thievy who sprinted through from the halfway line to score.
Barca continued to lack shape and organisation but the quality of Neymar and Suarez made the difference.
In particular, Suarez stood out as he set up both goals as well as hitting the crossbar. For Messi though it was a disappointing game and he again hit the woodwork 10 minutes from the end albeit with a more difficult chance from further out.