The El Classico played out at the Nou Camp last night in what was a typically explosive encounter.
Real Madrid travelled to Catalonia trailing their bitter rivals by a point, knowing that whoever won the tie would most likely win the league title.
Barcelona, and undoubtedly, Lionel Messi, had been the inform team, but as has been the case on so many occasions, that counts for precious little in this fixture.
Other players raise their game
The debate will rage on about who is the better player between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and it would be redundant for me to weigh in on that, but it was refreshing to see other players step up and share the limelight for once in this tie.
Luka Modric and Luis Suarez were the two players who stepped out of the Messi-Ronaldo all-encompassing dome and made the game more than just a two-way boxing match between the two.
A special mention has to go to the diminutive Croatian. It is no coincidence that Madrid’s poorest results this season have been with him out injured. Modric just makes Madrid play better and this was evidenced in the Champions League fixture against a fired up Schalke at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid’s midfield pairing of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira was completely overrun in the entire first half and made to look distinctly average. Madrid were consistently dominated in that part of the pitch until Modric’s introduction after the break and immediately, they got a foothold of the midfield.
Modric’s tenacity, calming influence and passing ability had an instant impact as Real regained control and settled down. Against Barcelona, he was a constant threat going forward, providing the pass before-the-pass that led to Ronaldo’s equaliser and he more than matched Barca’s midfield pairing of Ivan Rakitic and Javier Mascherano.
He also played a big part in nullifying Lionel Messi’s threat as he closed him down often and broke down Barcelona’s forward play numerous times before launching forays forward. It was a big performance from the little man, and it is unfortunate that he rarely ever gets the credit or gratification he deserves.
Suarez just as good
Luis Suarez, a player acquired for big-bucks, initially struggled in his first few months at Barcelona, netting just three times in his first 12 games, and there were consequent frustrating murmurs at his lack of goals. But one thing is for certain about the Uruguayan; he always gives 100%.
He had trouble finding the net but contributed his fair share of assists in the first half of the campaign and the fans appreciated his work ethic and selflessness. However, a striker’s primary job is to score goals and since the turn of the year, El Pistolero has been firing on all cylinders, much to the delight of fans and neutrals alike.
The 28-year-old has hit 11 in 17 and seven in his last seven and while Neymar and Messi mis-fired last night, Suarez did not.
Neymar missed four fantastic opportunities and Messi, apart from setting up the opening goal, was anonymous and shackled for much of the first 70 minutes, Suarez pooped up when his team needed something special and delivered to finish superbly from a lofted Dani Alves pass.
Suarez is a man for the big occasions and has proved it with some big goals in big moments in the past; the double against England in the World Cup, the Copa del Rey semi-final strike against Villarreal, the brace against City at the Etihad and now, in the foremost fixture of them all….the Classico.
Satisfaction for Suarez
For a player disregarded by Madrid president Perez in the summer as not being a ‘good player’, and mocked by the Madrid media for being overweight while turning out for Barca B, scoring the winner last night must be of special satisfaction.
There is an additional ‘sweetness’ for the man and his manager, Luis Enrique, who stuck by his man even through the drought and will now feel utterly vindicated. Suarez’s clinical intervention won the game for his side and after so narrowly missing out on a league winners’ medal last season, boasting a four point lead with 10 games left to play one gets the feeling that it may just be second time lucky this year.