BARCELONA (Reuters) - An inspired Neymar lead Barcelona’s 4-1 thrashing of Villarreal on Saturday with a performance that coach Luis Enrique said proved the Brazilian is in a class of his own.
Champions Barca temporarily went three points ahead of Real Madrid as Neymar and fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez combined to see off an in-form Villarreal.
Real then produced a ruthless first-half display to thrash already-relegated Granada 4-0 to remain on course for a first league title in five years.
Real are level on 84 points with Barca, who lead the standings due to their superior head-to-head record. Real have a game in hand, however, and will win a first domestic title since 2012 if they take seven points from their remaining three games.
At the Nou Camp, Barca went ahead in the 21st minute when Neymar ran onto a deflected pass from Messi to score, and the Brazilian forward was a constant threat down the left, delighting the crowd with his dazzling footwork.
Messi scored twice to take his tally to 51 goals in all competitions but it was Neymar who stole the show.
“Any football fan has to appreciate what Neymar does, which sometimes seems more like ballet than dribbling. It’s beautiful, it’s effective and it’s spectacular,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“It’s a huge pleasure to watch him. Time will tell if he can define an era. Neymar interprets football completely differently to other players, even to other Brazilians.”
Barca defender Gerard Pique said football needed players like Neymar.
“He’s magical, although we’re in an era in which it seems that magic is penalised and kicking is seen as better than providing a spectacle,” he added. “Players like Neymar make football much better.”
The Catalans’ hopes of winning a third straight title rest on Real Madrid losing one of their remaining games.
Editing by Peter Rutherford; firstname.lastname@example.org; +822 3704 5698 Reuters; Messaging: email@example.com