With Messi out, Suarez takes leadership role for Barcelona
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Even though it ended up a blowout, there was a moment in Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Real Madrid on Sunday when the result seemed in the balance.
Madrid had just pulled a goal back after overcoming the control Barcelona had imposed to take a 2-0 lead into halftime, and the hosts didn’t have Lionel Messi to come to the rescue.
That was when Luis Suarez stepped up to add two more goals to his first-half penalty to complete a hat trick that has placed Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui’s job in serious peril.
“Almost every season I score against Madrid,” Suarez said. “They came out of the restart going for the match. They pressured us a lot and had chances to draw level. We scored the third goal and took advantage of our speed and the open space to wrap it up.”
His second goal was a superb header, as he powered a soft lob from Sergi Roberto past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
That goal came when his teammates were under pressure after Marcelo had scored and Luka Modric hit the post.
Suarez also showed quality marksmanship on his penalty, driving it just inside the post and the diving Courtois, as well as fine finishing to chip in his third goal.
“He scored three goals today, but the work of Luis is always there,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.
As work goes, Suarez multitasks.
The Uruguayan bumps and battles with opposing defenders, makes runs to free up teammates, offers an outlet up front, and helps form part of Barcelona’s intricate passing attack.
Suarez dedicated his first goal to his family by lifting his shirt up to reveal a T-shirt with a image of this three children on it.
“This week my third child was born and her siblings wanted to come with me today, since mommy and Lauti are watching from home,” Suarez said.
The 31-year-old Suarez has scored nine times in 11 matches against Madrid since joining the Spanish champions after he left Liverpool following his biting of an Italy defender in the 2014 World Cup. Since then, Suarez has been on his best behavior, and become one of the club’s veteran leaders.
Suarez scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over Madrid that helped Barcelona secure the league title late in the 2014-15 season. The next season he scored twice in a 4-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu that Messi also missed. He netted in a 1-1 draw with Madrid in 2016-17, and also in a 3-0 win at Madrid and a 2-2 draw at home last season.
But the Uruguay striker has been especially important recently with Messi on the sidelines.
Since Messi broke his arm in the first half against Sevilla on Oct. 20, Barcelona has outscored its opponents 9-3, including four goals by Suarez.
Messi went down while Barcelona was leading Sevilla 2-0. Suarez immediately stepped up by scoring a third goal in an eventual 4-2 victory.
He set the tone against Inter Milan in the Champions League last week, assisting Rafinha for the opening goal of a 2-0 win.
But Suarez had saved his best for Sunday night, when he fueled a lopsided win that Barcelona’s fans will savor.
THE RIGHT MOVES
Madrid’s comeback attempt was triggered by Lopetegui sending on Lucas Vazquez as a right back at the start of the second half.
Lethargic until then, Madrid surged forward in waves and Vazquez helped start the move that led to Marcelo’s goal.
Valverde then made three moves that all contributed directly to goals by catching Madrid off-balance in defense.
Valverde swapped Rafinha for right back Nelson Semedo, which allowed him to move Roberto into attack. The versatile Roberto created three scoring chances for Suarez.
“I thought we needed players who could use their speed because we no longer had the control we had in the first half,” Valverde said. “The back-and-forth was risky. Sergi helped us get out on the attack.”