A lethal finish from Luis Suarez gave Barcelona a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in a typically frantic ‘Clasico’ on Sunday as they stretched their lead over their rivals at the top of La Liga to four points.
While the personal battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo captured the attention before the game, it was Uruguayan Suarez who settled the Nou Camp contest with a deft touch and a deadly strike into the corner of the net after 55 minutes.
Barcelona went ahead against the run of play when French defender Jeremy Mathieu headed home his first league goal for the Catalan club from a Messi free kick after 18 minutes.
Ronaldo had already hit the crossbar but he made no mistake after 30 minutes when he slotted the ball past keeper Claudio Bravo following a delightful backflick by Karim Benzema.
Real pressed forward with Gareth Bale having a goal harshly ruled out for offside and Benzema missing a golden chance before Suarez took his opportunity.
Barca finished the stronger as they secured a significant victory in the title race that moved them on to 68 points from 28 games, four ahead of second-placed Real with 10 matches left.
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale (L) reacts as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (R) celebrates with team mates at the end of their Spanish first division
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale (L) reacts as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (R) celebrates with team mates at the end of their Spanish first division “Clasico” soccer match against Barcelona at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, March 22, 2015. Reuters
“There is still an eternity to go and also we have the Champions League to think about. It would be a mistake to take anything for granted,” Barca’s Javier Mascherano told reporters.
“Against a team like Madrid you always have to give your all as they push you to the limits both physically and mentally. We put a lot into this game especially when you consider we played in midweek (against Manchester City).”
The pressure is growing on Real coach Carlo Ancelotti with the team having one win from five games in all competitions.
Real defender Sergio Ramos said: “We gave our all but we lacked luck in the first half, and they controlled the game better after that.
“The difference is only four points and we are going to keep fighting in the league. We will not ease up.”
The main doubt in the Barca lineup was whether Sergio Busquets would be fit to start and he began on the bench with Mascherano continuing in central midfield.
Toni Kroos returned to pull the strings in the centre of the pitch for Real after being rested in their victory over Levante last weekend.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (R) and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo react during their Spanish first division
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (R) and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo react during their Spanish first division “Clasico” soccer match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, March 22, 2015. Reuters
Real started well, overrunning Barca in midfield, and from one of their attacks at pace Benzema crossed for Ronaldo whose side-foot volley from a narrow angle hit the underside of the crossbar.
Ramos lost his man though at a free kick from Messi and Mathieu had plenty of space to head home and give Barca the lead.
The game became more hectic with Neymar missing in front of goal and at the other end Ronaldo bringing Real level.
Suarez had figured little in the game but later produced a superb finish and then in the closing stages, he, Neymar and Messi missed chances to give Barca a more comfortable win.
Earlier, Sevilla piled on the misery for Villarreal with a Coke strike setting them on the way to a 2-0 victory in La Liga following their midweek Europa League triumph over the same opponents.