Real Madrid 3 Barcelona 1: Luis Suarez will be fearful of history repeating itself in Nou setting

Former Liverpool striker may be set for another runner-up finish, this time with Barcelona

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Luis Suarez does not want to finish second again. He did that last season with Liverpool, and in two of his three full seasons at Ajax. Unfortunately for Barcelona’s new £75m signing, everything we saw in Saturday’s first Clasico of the campaign suggests that could well be his fate again.

Real Madrid remain one point behind Barcelona and only nine games have been played, but they look ominously superior to the leaders and, much as Suarez improves an already frighteningly good forward in Lionel Messi, there are weaknesses elsewhere at Barcelona that have no obvious immediate remedy.

“We could have scored a second but we didn’t and then as we attacked them, they killed us on the counter-attack,” said Suarez, lamenting Messi’s miss from his perfect assist in the first half. Having already crossed for Neymar to score after four minutes, Suarez set up Messi who should have made it 2-0, but the Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved at his feet. Barcelona disintegrated slowly from that moment on, allowing Madrid to win 3-1 comfortably.

They even eased up in the second half, thus sparing the visitors a more embarrassing scoreline.

“If you let them off the hook they end up punishing you,” said Barcelona midfielder Xavi after the match. “We dominated the first half. The second half belonged to them.”

In truth, Madrid looked like they would indeed win the game from the moment Cristiano Ronaldo equalised on 35 minutes.

Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side came into the fixture having not conceded in the league, but winning runs can be deceptive if the quality of the opposition is not taken into consideration. When they have faced heavyweight rivals they have crashed to the canvas with worrying ease. They have been beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and now Madrid, conceding six goals in the process.

 

Carlo Ancelotti’s Real team, in contrast, have comfortably won their biggest matches of the season so far, against Barcelona and Liverpool. After early-season teething problems, caused in no small part by the sale of key players Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso, they look every bit like the European Cup holders they are.

Forward Karim Benzema is increasingly adding an aggressive physicality to his technical talents and Ancelotti has shaken up the midfield, with Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric and Isco capable of outpassing Barcelona. The evergreen Pepe, after a shaky start, once again looked like the commanding defender Barcelona need to buy.

For Barcelona, Suarez brings plenty to the table and his mere inclusion from the start of Saturday’s game seemed to unsettle Madrid for the first half-hour, but it was in the subsequent 60 minutes that their other shortcomings were brutally exposed.

Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi were back together in midfield, but the engine room that used to purr with precision now rattles under pressure. It stopped connecting with its forward line and it was unable to protect the defence. What Barça would do for the option of Raphael Varane, who was an unused substitute for Madrid on Saturday.

After Pique had handled Marcelo’s cross and an otherwise subdued Ronaldo scored the penalty, the home side took full control. They were inspired by Benzema and the four-man midfield behind him that has meant that Gareth Bale’s absence has not been keenly felt.

Pepe headed in Kroos’s corner and then, direct from a Barça corner Isco, Ronaldo and James all combined before Benzema sent his shot past Claudio Bravo. It was the first goal in open play that the Barcelona goalkeeper has conceded all season.

Barcelona’s heads were down after that third goal. Suarez kept carrying the fight to the opposition and his duel with defender Sergio Ramos was evenly contested, in contrast with so many of the head-to-heads elsewhere.

When he made way on 70 minutes for Pedro it was the expected change. But Enrique could easily have taken off a lacklustre Messi, a fading Neymar or an overrun Iniesta instead. The Spain midfielder went down injured after the Suarez switch and had to come off anyway. He has an injury to his right calf and his club have put no timescale on his return.

“We need to turn the page,” said Suarez after the defeat. Having finished an agonising second last season, he will only hope the script is not the same at his new club.

Comments