Neymar silenced his critics with a brilliant hat-trick against Las Palmas to ensure Barcelona took the fight against Real Madrid for La Liga down to the final day of the season.
The Brazilian has been accused of not scoring enough goals this season but he made a mockery of his doubters by driving Barcelona to victory at a moment they could have wavered.
The Catalans flew to the Canary Islands in the midst of a defensive crisis, with Gerard Pique ill, Sergi Roberto suspended, Aleix Vidal injured and Jeremy Mathieu ostracised.
That worsened before kick-off with Javier Mascherano pulling up injured in the warm-up, with youngster Marlon Santos brought into the team for his first start.
He lined up alongside Samuel Umtiti at centre-back, with reserve left-back Lucas Digne forced onto the right.
Las Palmas almost took advantage of that immediately with Jese racing away from the Frenchman, who pulled him to the ground and was booked in the sixth minute.
Digne was lucky the referee didn’t produce the red card, and luckier still when his flailing arm caught Jonathan Viera’s head but he still wasn’t dismissed.
Former Real Madrid man Jese said in the week that he’d love to end Barcelona’s title bid, helping his old team out, and the winger was looking dangerous for the hosts, who started well.
However a Barcelona blitz in the space of three minutes effectively killed Las Palmas’ hopes. Luis Enrique’s side took the move after a slick team move in the 25th minute.
The move was heavenly. It started with Busquets’ backheel flick to Iniesta, who played an inch-perfect, deliberately sliced through ball into the path of Suarez.
It looked good enough to eat, but instead of gobbling it up himself, Suarez unselfishly played the role of delivery driver, ferrying it into the area and then across to Neymar at the back post who tucked it in.
The Brazilian has been starved for goals this season in La Liga, this was only his 11th, and he was grateful for the unselfishness of his strike partner.
So grateful, in fact, he immediately repaid the favour with a ball from the left channel into the path of Suarez, who using his shark-like killer instinct, acknowledged Javi Varas’ charging out of his goal and deftly lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper for the second.
Las Palmas have become known as the team that plays the best football in Spain, outside the big two—sometimes including them—and they put together a move nearly as good as Barcelona’s opener to pull one back.
Kevin-Prince Boateng crossed for Pedro Bigas to stab the ball home from close range, but barely in enough time for word to travel back to the mainland and the Spanish capital, Neymar intervened.
The Brazilian headed home from close range after Ivan Rakitic crossed for him and then nudged the ball past Varas to complete his hat-trick for his 13th league goal of the season.
It has not been a consistent season for Neymar in front of goal or Barcelona in La Liga, but this win, their sixth consecutive in the top flight, means the title race will be decided on the final day.