Barcelona moved four points clear at the top of La Liga as Luis Suarez’s brilliant individual effort handed them a 2-1 win over Real Madrid on Sunday.
Jeremy Mathieu headed Barca in front early on from Lionel Messi’s free-kick, but Cristiano Ronaldo hit back at his critics in recent weeks with a deserved equaliser before the break.
Suarez was to have the final say, though, as he registered his first goal in El Clasico by controlling Dani Alves’s long ball before turning to strike into the far corner.
“It is my most important goal for Barca so far, it has an extra meaning given the opponents that it was against,” Suarez told TV3.
Barca boss Luis Enrique hailed the Uruguayan’s quality and said that is why the Catalans splashed out a club record fee for him despite his checkered past.
“It is clear the goal is something very few players can do. That is why we signed him. We valued him because he is a player that makes the difference,” said Enrique.
“Ever since he arrived we have been very happy with his performances, his commitment and everything he does for the team.”
A third defeat in four games for Madrid will see coach Carlo Ancelotti come under increasing pressure to hold onto his job, but he insisted he had been encouraged by his side’s performance for the first hour.
“We played a lot better until the second goal. After that it was very difficult,” said the Italian.
“In the first-half we played very well, we had control, were dangerous up front and solid at the back.
“We lacked a bit of a cool head to try and equalise rather than playing long balls.”
And Ancelotti believes Madrid’s title fight is far from over despite dropping eight points in their last four league games.
“Four points is obviously an advantage for Barcelona. We won’t give up, particularly because of the way we played in the first-half. We have to keep going to try and play like that for 90 minutes.”
Madrid started the brighter as Karim Benzema pulled a shot wide of the far post before his teasing cross was volleyed onto the bar at the back post by Ronaldo.
However, it was Barca who went in front on 18 minutes when Mathieu headed home Messi’s in-swinging free-kick from the left for his first league goal for the club.
Neymar should have doubled the hosts’ advantage on the half hour when he fired straight at Iker Casillas with the goal gaping after a mishit Suarez shot rolled across goal.
Seconds later Real were level thanks to a lovely move as Benzema backheeled Luka Modric’s pass into Ronaldo’s path and he poked the ball past Claudio Bravo on the stretch.
The visitors then went on to end the half the stronger as Gareth Bale had a goal ruled out for offside, whilst Bravo tipped a piledriver from Ronaldo over and Bale stabbed inches wide from the resulting corner.
But Madrid were caught by a sucker punch 11 minutes into the second-half when Alves’s ball over the top was brilliantly controlled and finished by Suarez on the turn.
Neymar nearly made amends for his miss in the first period with an incredible run from inside hs own half past numerous Madrid players, but again his finishing was wayward as he blasted over.
Messi had been very quiet given his stunning performances of late, but he was inches away from sealing the points 17 minutes from time as his shot curled just wide.
Neymar then blazed wide again from a Messi pass as space began to open up for Barca.
Those wasted opportunities nearly came back to haunt the Catalans as Bravo had to produce a brilliant save to turn Benzema’s deflected effort behind for a corner.
Casillas kept Madrid in the game at the other end with a pair of fine saves to deny Jordi Alba and Messi, but it was to no avail as Barca racked up their 18th win in 19 games. – Agence France-Presse