Barça battle to beat Sporting
© AFP

Barcelona secured a much-needed 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon on a night they struggled for a cutting edge without Lionel Messi.

With the Argentinian playmaker suspended, Pep Guardiola's side had to rely on late goals from Seydou Keita and Xavi to secure a win that moved them seven points behind leaders Real Madrid.

Barça looked in real danger of dropping more points when David Barral's 49th-minute equaliser came moments after Gerard Pique saw red. The champions had been frustrated before Andres Iniesta opened the scoring just before half-time and their ineffectiveness in front of goal looked like it would cost them until Keita curled in a wonderful goal with 11 minutes left. Xavi added a third late on as Barça extended their unbeaten run at the Nou Camp to 49 games.

Without Messi, Barcelona looked short on ideas in front of goal in the first half as Sporting, marooned in the drop zone, understandably got bodies behind the ball. Keita and Pedro had the best chances blocked and Barça's frustrations began to surface, highlighted by Javier Mascherano trying his luck from range only to slice his effort horribly off target.

But just as Sporting looked like they would get to the break unscathed, the hosts broke through with a typical move on 42 minutes. A zig-zag of passes down the left flank culminated in Keita freeing Adriano, who pulled the ball back from the byline for Iniesta to tap-in unopposed. Remarkably it was the Spanish international's first league goal of the campaign.

If Barça thought they were set fair for victory they were forced to reassess less than a minute after the break when Pique saw red before Sporting sensationally equalised. Pique was the last man when he tangled with Miguel De las Cuevas on the edge of the area to leave the hosts with ten men.

It got worse for Guardiola's side moments later when Formose Mendy jinked into space down the byline before delivering a low pass that Barral deflected in after nipping in front of Victor Valdes at the near post. Barcelona's response was again to dominate possession without showing their usual thrust.

Alexis Sanchez took an extra touch after Iniesta set him up in the area, dribbling his shot wide, while Cristian Tello had a shot deflected just over. Pedro Orfila fired wide from the edge of the area to keep Barça's nerves on edge before Keita fired them back ahead with a brilliant finish on 79 minutes.

The Malian international picked his spot with a curling finish from the edge of the area to finally break Sporting's resistence. Xavi added a third on 88 minutes with a clever lobbed finish after being sent through one-on-one by Iniesta, but it disguised a stuttering display from the champions.