No Messi no problem for Barça as they hit Real Madrid for five
Luis Suárez’s hat-trick puts Julen Lopetegui on the brink with his side ninth in La Liga
Barcelona celebrate their 5-1 win over Real Madrid at the Camp nou. Photograph: Toni Albir/EPA
Real Madrid have now won just once in six games – and if this is to be the end for Julen Lopetegui, it was a painful one, leaving his team in ninth place, seven points behind Barcelona. Nor was it just the scoreline; it was the sensations too. In the first 45 minutes here, Madrid simply didn’t exist – they were, put bluntly, awful. Simply not there. And while they did react in the second half, while they made a game of this, while they rebelled, it was insufficient. Lionel Messi was not there, but Suárez was. He had feared that the chance had gone, and them took charge of ensuring it hadn’t, adding two more goals to go with his first-half penalty – both of them superb.
Suárez had departed head in his hands, muttering to himself at half-time. Looking up at the scoreboard, that might have appeared odd, but the reaction was no more than a reflection of a reality that had been played out here and around the ground 95,000 culés felt the same. Barcelona were leading 2-0 yet Suárez knew, as they all did, that it should have been more. And not just because of what had unfolded barely seconds before.
In the final minute of the half, he had led a break: four Barcelona players were suddenly running through the middle of the pitch up against just two Madrid players, a huge space before them, only for the Uruguayan to waste the opportunity to slip the knife in again. Released slightly to the right but tiring as he ran, his pass was horribly hit and the moment had gone, the move coming to an end just when it seemed the match might too.
The whistle went soon after and as Suárez departed, head down, Madrid’s players walked off alongside him, wearing a lost look. They had trailed from the eleventh minute, and never really looked like recovering thereafter. The goal would prove a portrait of the half: Barcelona played thirty passes before delivering the ball that broke through, a long diagonal travelling over Nacho to Jordi Alba. He raced forward and as Suárez ran into the six-yard box, Madrid’s players going with him, Alba pulled the ball back for Philippe Coutinho to finish from by the penalty spot.
The Camp Nou erupted; Madrid barely reacted. Coutinho had shot blocked, Arthur Melo drew a sharp save from Thibaut Courtois, but it wasn’t the chances that defined this. Indeed, there weren’t that many of them, in truth; what there was, though, was an overwhelming sense of superiority. It felt almost as if Barcelona could have ended this sooner had they sought to accelerate, reached for Madrid’s throat – and that of their manager Lopetegui, standing alone on the touchline, the end nigh.
The ball was Barcelona’s and theirs alone, Ivan Rakitic, Arthur and Sergio Busquets exercising control, Alba leaving Nacho feeling exposed and vulnerable. On those rare occasions when Madrid did get the ball, mostly they gave it away again. There was no reaction, no resistance, and soon the lead was doubled.
Raphaël Varane, who would be withdrawn at half-time, brought down Suárez in the area, clipping his heel and tumbling into his back. It took a while, and a video replay, but eventually, Sánchez Martínez dashed from the touchline where he watched it back on the television and pointed to the spot, from where Suárez beat Courtois. As he had watched, Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Isco stood looking over him: it was about as involved as they had been all game.
Alba almost found Suárez soon after; then the Uruguayan sent a deep cross over for Gerard Piqué, who couldn’t quite guide it goalwards; and then Rafinha bent a shot just wide. While the control appeared complete, there is always that doubt, and Suárez’s disappointment deepened when Madrid got one back five minutes into the second half. Lucas Vázquez and Isco made it and, when the ball dropped, Marcelo scored from close range.
Lucas had come on for Varane at half-time, Madrid shifting to three at the back, width added, and the impact had been immediate. Here was a reaction at last. There was a game, after all – a real game. Madrid existed. Luka Modric did too. They were revived, rebelling, and playing. Barcelona were rattled. Perhaps Suárez had foreseen this, but still it surprised how suddenly it had shifted. Sergio Ramos dived to head over, then Modric struck the post. Madrid were pouring forward now, Barcelona keen to halt them, desperate to take hold of the ball again, find a way through the storm.
They did and they might have made it 3-1 when a wonderful move involving Rakitic and Sergi Roberto ended with Suárez acrobatically volleying against the post. Then Coutinho delivered for Alba to strike just wide. Barcelona were back in the game but that game was not just theirs any more; it was open and uncertain and when Lucas crossed from the right, Karim Benzema probably should have headed in, not over, from nine yards. There was an intent to Madrid that had been absent before and every time they came forward the threat was palpable, quick in the tackle and quicker to advance.
Barcelona too have that in their armoury, though – and in Suárez they had an outlet unlike any other. They also had Alba whizzing about. And changes to make, all of which worked perfectly. Ousmane Dembélé was sent on, and almost straight away was running at Barcelona. He spread it wide to Sergi Roberto, moved into midfield when Nelson Semedo was introduced, who clipped in a cross. Suárez’s neck strained and snapped and his superb header, full of intent, flew powerfully into the net beyond Courtois.
He wasn’t finished yet. Sergi Roberto battled with Ramos and released him. Running through, he dinked the ball wonderfully over Courtois. And still there was more, Dembélé wriggling through and crossing, for Barcelona’s third substitute Arturo Vidal to leap and head in. It was five, and it was over. “Whoever doesn’t bounce is a Madridista!” the stadium chanted and all around they bounced. Lopetegui just watch, lost and long gone.