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Suarez Lights Up Nou Camp to Quell Rivals

Published: 23rd March 2015 09:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd March 2015 09:47 AM   |  A+A-

Luis Suarez showed once again that the bigger the occasion, the likelier he is to influence its outcome. The -Uruguayan won himself a long-term place in the affections of his new -constituents in Barcelona with the high-class goal that won the gran clasico against Real Madrid, Barca's second on a night when they had struggled for significant periods to control their nearest challengers for the Spanish league title.
In that race, there are still ten matches left, but the four points that now separate the chief heavyweights of la Liga will look very large from the capital. At the end of January, Madrid led Barcelona by the same distance. They have been reeled back and by the final whistle they were more sapped by their endeavours than their hosts. For Barcelona, talk of a treble will get a louder now. For Madrid, and a frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo, who had equalised an earlier Jeremy Mathieu header, the Champions League might just look more of a priority from here.
Gauging the mood of Ronaldo, early in matches, has become a preoccupation since his form began to dip in the period since his winning his third Ballon D'Or in early January. But to measure the perceived threat even an out-of-sorts Ronaldo -represents in the minds of Barcelonistas, you just needed your ears. His first touch of the ball drew piercing shrieks and deep, reverberating -booing from 90,000 people. No Madrid player animates the old enemy as much as Ronaldo.
Ronaldo's response to the first -chorus of derision? To side-foot a -volley against the underside of Claudio Bravo's crossbar. It was Madrid's first significant opportunity, which came to them after 12 minutes, but felt encouraging in that they had carved through Barcelona so smoothly, and in seeing how much time Karim Benzema, 10 yards from goal, had to receive the ball, look up and cross to Ronaldo. On another day, and particularly one of those heady nights when he was a -goalscoring Midas during late 2014, Ronaldo would have aimed his shot just a few millimetres lower.
Six minutes later, Madrid trailed, to precisely the sort of goal that vexes Carlo Ancelotti and Paul Clement, his assistant. It looked a straightforward enough set-piece, and the room that Mathieu found for himself to thump his header past Iker Casillas -suggested poor planning in the marking. But the delivery of the free-kick met by Mathieu was clever, too, quick and flat, and, of course, from the left foot of Messi.
Messi had already executed his first nutmeg, on Toni Kroos, after four minutes, and headed a Neymar cross wide. He had also delegated his established role in clasicos, as chief dueller with Pepe, Madrid's bouncer of a centre-half, to Suarez. Pepe's foul on Suarez led to the free-kick for Barca's opener; both men were keen to continue the argument from then on.
Ronaldo's 31st goal of the league season, the equaliser, was well worked and a reward for several quick, slick breaks Madrid would produce in the first half. This one began with Luka Modric's through-ball and was decorated by Benzema's neat back heel into Ronaldo's path.
The Portuguese still needed to pick his spot carefully to spear his shot beyond Bravo. The goal galvanised Madrid, who believed they had another, through Gareth Bale, until Ronaldo, who had provided the headed pass, was deemed offside. He was also deemed to have dived, and would be booked for it, when he later flopped into the Barcelona penalty area. Yet Madrid went to half-time with the greater impetus, Barca concerned that Gerard Pique, expert in anticipating many of Madrid's breaks, had spent too much of the first 45 minutes covering the gaps left by team-mates all around him.
Bravo had produced an alert save from Ronaldo just before the break, and would make another one from the excellent Benzema soon after. If the French striker and Ronaldo were finding themselves in the best positions of Madrid's three forwards that was partly because Bale, their partner, remained conspicuously conscious of his midfield duties, for keeping Jordi Alba, Barca's adventurous left-back, policed. Bale also had the bad luck, when he seemed clear to take on Bravo, to be interrupted by a super Pique interception.
But the night was to belong far less to the 2013 Premier League Footballer of the Year, Bale, than to last season's. Suarez had told Barcelona supporters last week, he never imagined, growing up, playing in this most fabled of fixtures. The goal he contributed in his first home appearance in a clasico was the stuff of fables, as much for the sure first touch he applied to the ball on receiving Dani Alves's long pass, as for his turn and the angle of his finish. The glee that spread through the celebrations was vivid. Suarez's -Barcelona colleagues were evidently pleased that a man playing in his debut Camp Nou match against the chief rivals had such a powerful memento of the match, and that the sluggish start to Suarez's Barcelona career, an adventure that began with a long ban and then a stubborn goal drought, is now an episode consigned to the past.
Mainly they were thrilled that, after a phase of the game when Madrid seemed to be gaining some swagger and ominous purpose, Barcelona had snatched back the momentum., might have been better advised.
Madrid started to show symptoms of fatigue, stretched by Neymar's runs, and the tensions that no meeting of these two clubs can ever put a firm lid on for a full 90 minutes simmered and spluttered. The count of yellow cards had reached double figures with 20 minutes still to go. There were sly moments. Dani Carvajal appeared to pinch Javier Mascherano on the back of the head.
By the whistle, Barca had racked up a number of chances to extend the margin, Casillas saving from Alba and Mess. Ancelotti, the losing coach, can expect some heat for the way the pendulum had swung, and indeed for the way it has swung by eight full points in the last eight Liga games.
Ancelotti has long maintained, even when Madrid were on the crest of their wave going into Christmas, and Messi seemed out of sorts at a brittle Barcelona, that the race for the title would go down to the last game of the season. And as he and Barca coach Luis Enrique scan the remaining -fixtures, there is a case that the last quarter of the Liga timetable does fewer favours to Barcelona than to Madrid. It is a fragile alibi, but -Ronaldo and company will cling to it.



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