Messi missed but Suarez steps up to keep Barca on Madrid's heels

COMMENT

It was much more difficult than the scoreline suggests. Barcelona beat Granada 4-1 in Andalusia on Sunday night to stay on Real Madrid's heels in the title race. And with Lionel Messi missing, it was Luis Suarez who stepped up at the Estadio Los Carmenes.

Suarez stars as Neymar hits 100th Barca goal

Messi was banned after picking up his fifth league booking of the season in the 4-2 win over Valencia prior to the international break, so many at Barca were looking to the on-form Neymar for inspiration. But instead it was Suarez who revelled in the Argentine's absence.

That is nothing new. When Messi was out injured last season, it was the Uruguayan who assumed responsibility more than anyone else with goals and match-winning performances. And again this term, too, when the five-time Ballon d'Or was sidelined in the winter.

Suarez saw two decent penalty appeals waved away in the first half and also hit the crossbar with a delightful chip which had Granada goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa well beaten. Neymar was on hand to hit home the rebound, but the Brazilian was in an offside position.

Luis Suarez Jordi Alba Granada Barcelona La Liga

Barcelona were missing Messi, as could be expected, yet the champions' dominance was almost absoluteagainst a side struggling down in 19th place in La Liga. And eventually the goal came, just short of half-time, as Suarez latched onto a great pass from Jordi Alba and beat Ochoa with a lovely lob.

Neymar: Ballon d'Or win can wait

The alarm bells rang again when Chelsea loanee Jeremie Boga bagged an equaliser after the break, but even with players like Gerard Pique rested, Messi missing, Rafinha off injuredand Andres Iniesta on the bench, Barcelona had much quality on the pitch.

Suarez then fought for a ball in midfield and picked out substitute Paco Alcacer with a brilliant pass which left the former Valencia striker one on one with Ochoa - and the 23-year-old produced a finish of which the Uruguayan would have beenproud.

The former Liverpool forward is now the onlyplayer to reach double figures for both goals (23) and assists (10) in Europe's top fiveleagues in 2016-17 and with Messi out on Sunday, his contribution was essential to his side's success.

Granada Barcelona La Liga
Paco Alcacer Granada Barcelona La Liga

Ivan Rakitic helped extend the advantagelater on with a deflected effortthat went down as an own goal for Matthieu Saunierand Neymar netted in the last minute to reach 100 goals for Barcelona in what was ultimately a comfortable 4-1 winfor Luis Enrique's side.

So, the Catalan clubremain in the title race, just two points adrift of fierce rivals Real, although Los Blancos still have a game in hand. However, there is a long way to go until the trophy is handed out, with a Clasico clash to come at the Santiago Bernabeu later this month.

Barca always believed in PSG comeback - Luis Enrique

In the meantime, Messi will be back in midweek for the Primera Division clash at home to Sevilla and the Argentine attacker will be rested, refreshed and recharged for the battles that lie ahead.

The 29-year-old remains as important as ever for the Blaugrana, but Neymar and - in particular - Suarez showed on Sunday that the club can manage without him when they have to these day.

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