The champions put their recent slump behind them in style as Madrid and Atletico both came through tough tests. Thanks to the Uruguayan, the title looks back on for the Blaugrana,,,
Barcelona are back in business and it is thanks largely to one man. Luis Suarez stepped up in spectacular style to swing the title race back in the favour of Luis Enrique’s side on Wednesday as Atletico and Real Madrid came through with wins. The champions are back to winning ways – but more crucially the feel-good factor has returned.
The Catalans had lost their last three Liga games and went into Wednesday evening ahead of Atletico only on the head-to-head record between the two teams, with Zinedine Zidane’s side sat just a point further back.
After their defeats to Madrid, Real Sociedad and Valencia, there was no more margin for error and a trip to Deportivo La Coruna was another potential banana skin – even though the Galicians have been poor at Riazor this term.
With the club’s famous forward line under pressure, and Neymar and Lionel Messi questioned in particular, it was up to Suarez to show the MSN cannot and should not be written off after a few off-colour displays. The Uruguayan took it upon himself to drag the team out of their malaise and by half-time he had Barca in cruise control with the opening two goals.
His four strikes and three assists in a single game is something no player has achieved in modern times and perhaps never before. The former Liverpool striker showed he is both a fantastic finisher and an outstanding provider as he netted four to take his tally to 49 for the season and set up three more for Ivan Rakitic, Messi and Neymar respectively in an outrageously one-sided encounter.
On the verge of 50 goals in a single season, the South American overtook the 47 scored by Ronaldo in 1996-97 and has now netted more than Cristiano in all competitions this term. In total, he has two more than the Portuguese and is just one behind the Real Madrid man in the race for the Pichichi prize.
But more important than that is La Liga. And the smiles were back on the faces of the Barca players as they returned to winning ways. Standing between the Catalans and a second successive title under Luis Enrique are Sporting Gijon, Betis, Espanyol and Granada. On Wednesday’s form, they should not be too troubled.
“The important thing is that the goals have helped us to get three points,” Suarez said afterwards. “They said that La Liga was finished and now it still depends on us, and the work will pay off.”
They will need to keep working, however, because Atleti and Madrid both made sure that the gap at the top of the table remains unchanged going into the last four fixtures.
Diego Simeone’s side came through a tough test away to Athletic Bilbao as in-form forward Fernando Torres hit the only goal of the game at San Mames to ensure the Rojiblancos remain level on points with the Blaugrana.
“We have bettered our numbers from last season and there are still four rounds left,” Simeone said afterwards. “The dressing room is happy. We are hugely competitive with ourselves and when we keep improving, that makes us very happy.”
Atletico (with Malaga, Rayo Vallecano, Levante and Celta Vigo still to play) have finished in the top three for four successive seasons for the first time in the club’s history and they are still very much in the title race this time around.
So too are Real Madrid. Zidane’s side emerged from a difficult game against Villarreal, despite the absences of both Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale – with Karim Benzema, Lucas Vazquez and Luka Modric all on target in a 3-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid face both Rayo and Real Sociedad away, with a home game against Valencia and a trip to Deportivo to come. Like Atleti, they also have the distraction of the Champions League.
They suffered a scare on Wednesday, too, as Ronaldo limped off injured in stoppage time, although Zidane said: “I don’t think it’s serious. I’m worried, but less so after seeing him in the dressing room.”
Ronaldo remains key to Madrid’s hopes, but Suarez starred on Wednesday to lift bruised Barca back off the canvas and hit back like a true champion. Despite their recent slump, the Uruguayan striker showed that the Blaugrana are still the team to beat in La Liga – and he may even eclipse Cristiano in the scoring charts as well. What a night.
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