Barcelona vs Real Madrid match report: Luis Suarez shines brightest in El Clasico to send Barca clear at the top of La Liga

Barcelona 2 Real Madrid 1

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The Independent Football

In the end it wasn’t decided by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; it was settled by Luis Suarez.

In the battle of Spain’s big two, and of the continents’ greatest strikers Messi struck first making Barcelona’s opener; Ronaldo responded to equalize for Real Madrid; but Suarez got the winner to move Barcelona four points clear of their rivals with 10 games to go.

At half-time it looked like being Ronaldo’s night after he had equalised Jérémy Matheiu’s header. He was more motivated than ever after a week of hearing how Messi is history’s greatest player. He even dived for a penalty in the first half as all means, fair and otherwise, were used to win the game.

But despite Madrid’s gutsy performance it was Suarez’s determination that won the night, somehow sweeping Dani Alves’s pass past Iker Casillas before Pepe and Sergio Ramos could close him down.

Real Madrid had come into the game having lost two of their last three, surrendered their lead at the top of La Liga and long since been knocked out of the Copa del Rey. Barcelona by contrast had only lost once in 2015, reached the cup final and convincingly seen off Premier League champions Manchester City.

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Jeremy Mathieu heads Barcelona into the lead

The fortunes of the two forward lines had followed similar trajectories. Real Madrid’s front three of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo has scored 15 goals since the turn of the year. Messi alone has scored 17 with Suarez and Neymar scoring six each in that time.

Ronaldo made an early sprint down the left before being stopped by Alves. Barça launched their first attack and Suarez almost scored after a one-two with Andres Iniesta. Messi had his first nutmeg  victim, slipping the ball through Toni Kroos’s legs as Barça enjoyed the upper hand in the opening minutes.

Bale then fed Benzema but the Frenchman dragged his cross-shot wide. The Welshman, who missed the Clasico earlier in the season had made a bright start. And if the Premier League’s best player from two years ago was prominent in the opening minutes so was the best from last season – Suarez fed Neymar but the Brazilian had been blocked by Ramos and gone to ground. He stayed down and Real quite rightly continued playing despite appeals to put the ball out. With their next attack Ronaldo hit the woodwork. Marcelo fed Benzema and he crossed to Ronaldo at the back post. The Portuguese hit the underside of the bar.

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Ronaldo prods home the equaliser

Messi had parked himself on the right wing with Barcelona knowing that Real Madrid’s left-back Marcelo would leave him plenty of space but the Argentinian was seeing little of the ball.

In the 16th minute he was found by Neymar but headed well wide of Casillas’ right-hand upright. Pepe barged over Suarez and from the free-kick Barcelona took the lead through the most unlikely of scorers.

Messi took the free-kick and Mathieu timed his run perfectly to head home. The French defender arrived with conviction ahead of Ramos and powered the ball past Casillas.

Real responded with a Ronaldo run and cross that Bale almost guided goalwards and Mathieu twice had to  make crucial interceptions as Real looked to respond immediately.

Tempers flared at the other end. Pepe had gone in late on Suarez and when the former Liverpool striker left a foot in on Pepe he was booked despite a lengthy protest.

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Luis Suarez scores what turned out to be the winner with a great finish

Barcelona could have gone 2-0 up when Suarez’s cross-shot was some how fumbled straight at Casillas by Neymar and Barça were punished at the other end as Ronaldo scored from Benzema’s brilliant flick. He milked the abuse he received from behind the goal. Barcelona only had themselves to blame having never been in control of the first half despite scoring first.

Having got Real back into the game with a moment’s brilliance Ronaldo then dived into the penalty area and was booked. There was barely time for him to be embarrassed as the game continued at a furious pace and only a perfectly timed challenge from Jordi Alba prevented Bale from scoring.

He then did have the ball in the net shortly afterwards but Ronaldo was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up.

Real Madrid kept up the pressure in the second half and Benzema so nearly finished a fine move but goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made the save and paved the way for Suarez to win it. Alves released him and before Pepe and Ramos could close him down he had the ball nestled in the far corner of Casillas’ net. Neymar carelessly wasted two chances to put the result beyond doubt and Barça still needed a brilliant stop by Bravo from Benzema, but they did enough to hang on and move four points clear at the top.

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EL CLASICO - KEY NUMBERS

6 - Luis Suarez has scored six goals in his last seven La Liga appearances

15 - Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 15 goals in Clasicos, behind Lionel Messi (21) and Alfredo Di Stefano (18)

3 - Real Madrid suffered their third defeat in four games

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