MADRID — Barcelona didn’t show any signs of missing Lionel Messi on Saturday, cruising past Sporting Gijon 5-0 in their first Spanish league game without the injured playmaker.
Neymar and Luis Suarez took over in Messi’s absence, and by the end of the day Barcelona were only one point behind Real Madrid, which drew at Las Palmas 2-2 after conceding a late equaliser.
Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio scored for Madrid, which twice relinquished its lead.
Neymar scored two goals and Suarez one for Barcelona, while Rafinha and Arda Turan added the others at El Molinon Stadium in Gijon.
Athletic Bilbao won their fourth in a row to be third, two points behind Madrid.
Fifth-place Atletico Madrid host Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
Sporting Gijon 0, Barcelona 5
Messi hurt his groin in the draw with Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou last week, and will miss another La Liga game, one Champions League match, and Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers against Peru on October 6 and Paraguay on October 11.
Coach Luis Enrique filled the midfield with Turan, Rafinha, and Andre Gomes, resting Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic. He also didn’t play Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba ahead of the Champions League game at Borussia Moenchengladbach on Wednesday.
“I have different kinds of players and that gives me a lot of options,” Luis Enrique said. “Depending on who we are playing and the players I have available, I’ll pick the ones that I think are right for the situation.”
Sporting played with 10 men from the 74th as captain Alberto Lora was sent off for a second yellow card after a hard sliding tackle on Sergi Roberto.
Barcelona struggled in the first 30 minutes but took control of the match after the first two goals, and the game opened up even more for the Catalan club after Lora’s red card.
“The result doesn’t reflect what happened,” Luis Enrique said. “It looks like it was an easy win but Sporting played an intense game. The red card changed everything and from then on we were able to score another three.”
Sporting, who dropped to 12th in the standings, also lost 5-0 at Atletico Madrid two rounds ago.
Las Palmas 2, Real Madrid 2
Substitute Sergio Araujo scored an 85th-minute equaliser as Las Palmas held Real Madrid to their second consecutive draw.
Marco Asensio opened the scoring, and Tana evened the match before half-time. Benzema put the visitors ahead again in the 67th, but Araujo’s shot ricocheted off goalkeeper Kiko Casilla and twice bounced off the Argentine striker.
“We lost two points that are needed to win the league,” Madrid striker Alvaro Morata said. “We had to win this game.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a goal disallowed because of offside in the 56th, appeared to be upset by his substitution in the 72nd.
Athletic Bilbao 3, Sevilla 1
Athletic Bilbao won their fourth in a row.
Mikel San Jose scored in the first half, and Samir Nasri equalised for Sevilla in the 55th, but Mikel Balenziaga put the hosts ahead again in the 66th, and Aritz Aduriz sealed the victory by converting a 90th-minute penalty kick at San Memes Stadium.
Following losses in their first two games, including to Barcelona at home in the second round, Athletic were coming off wins over Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia and Granada.
Sevilla, who were yet to lose after five games, dropped to fourth place.
Barcelona’s victory came a day after Arnold Schwarzenegger paid a visit to the squad. The actor and former California governor was in town for a bodybuilding event, and met with players such Neymar, Sergio Busquets, and Javier Mascherano.