Barcelona 2 Real Madrid 1
Luis Suarez’s stunning second-half strike fired Barcelona to a 2-1 win over Real Madrid to move four points clear of their eternal rivals at the top of La Liga.
The Uruguayan brought down Dani Alves’s long ball to produced a sweet finish past Iker Casillas on 55 minutes, restoring Barca’s lead after Cristiano Ronaldo had cancelled out Jeremy Mathieu’s opener in the first half.
Although Madrid were on top for most of the opening 45 minutes, the second half belonged to the Catalans, with Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Suarez all missing chances to stretch their lead late on.
Madrid now have 10 matches to recover their four-point deficit with Luis Enrique’s side at the top, but they have a superior head-to-head record as they beat Barca 3-1 at the Bernabeu earlier in the season.
The Catalans went into this game on a run of 18 wins from their last 19 games and fresh from knocking out Manchester City to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but it was the visitors who had the first clear attempt on goal.
Karim Benzema advanced into the area and held the ball up well before chipping towards Ronaldo at the far post, but the Portuguese could only hit the crossbar from a couple of yards out.
Then Barca came back down the other end. Alves combined with Messi down the right and the play was switched to Neymar on the left, but the Brazilian headed his team-mate’s cross wide of the near post.
The opening goal arrived on 18 minutes, and from the most unlikely of sources. Messi swung a free-kick in from the left after Pepe’s foul on Suarez and Mathieu emerged from the sea of bodies to head past Casillas and into the bottom corner, scoring his first league goal since his 20million euro move from Valencia last summer.
Barca should have doubled their lead on the half hour mark, with Suarez crossing to Neymar from the right but the Brazilian could only shoot straight into Casillas’ hands from a few yards out. The Spain captain distributed the ball well and Madrid equalised immediately, with Benzema back heeling Modric’s through ball across to Ronaldo, and the Portuguese slipped the ball under Claudio Bravo to silence the Nou Camp.
The goal galvanised Madrid and they went on to control the remainder of the half. Gareth Bale thought he had put his side ahead when he nodded in Ronaldo’s flicked header, but the Portuguese was ruled offside.
Bale then missed a clear chance to score a legitimate goal when the ball skidded to him inside the area, but he screwed his shot wide of the far post. Moments before, Ronaldo’s stinging effort from outside the area was tipped over by Bravo.
Barca did well to make it to the break on level terms and could have conceded again early in the second period as Benzema produced another sublime piece of skill in the area to turn his marker but his shot was parried by Bravo.
The Catalans reclaimed the lead 10 minutes into the second half, although the goal came out of nothing.
Alves brought the ball out from defence to the halfway line and launched a long ball up field, which Suarez controlled expertly and then arrowed into the far bottom corner, scoring his first goal against Real Madrid and his 14th in all competitions for Barca.
Neymar could have put the game to bed when he went on a thrilling 50-yard run forward but with Suarez free to his right he opted to shoot over the bar.
The Brazilian tormented Madrid’s defence again moments later but again failed to hit the target, while Messi went within inches after a sublime run.
The Argentinian was denied by Casillas late on but the home fans were still enjoying watching their side rip Real apart, and they seemed assured of the victory long before the final whistle sounded.