Luis Suarez scored the winning goal to give Barcelona a 2-1 win over title rival Real Madrid on Sunday in a back-and-forth “clasico” between the Spanish league’s main title rivals.
Suarez broke free from Madrid’s defense to restore Barcelona’s lead in the 56th minute, ensuring Barcelona opened up a four-point gap over Madrid with another 10 rounds remaining to decide the league crown.
“That was my most important goal I have scored for Barcelona, and it has an extra significance considering the opponent,” Suarez said.
Lionel Messi curled in a perfect free kick for Jeremy Mathieu to head in Barcelona’s opener in the 19th minute of a first half otherwise dominated by Madrid.
Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, who had hit the woodwork before Barcelona’s goal, leveled from Karim Benzema’s superb backheel pass in the 31st — shortly after Neymar had missed a great chance to double the host’s lead.
But after Suarez struck from Dani Alves’ long ball, Messi and Neymar both went close to adding goals in a second half dictated by the Catalan side.
“We played well for the first hour, but the last half hour was terrible,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It is a blow. Barcelona has an advantage, but we won’t give up.”
While Ronaldo and Benzema outplayed their counterparts in the first half, the hosts never looked back after Suarez scored his 14th and by far most important goal since joining Barcelona from Liverpool this summer.
There were no surprises in the starting lineups. Javier Mascherano was in Barcelona’s midfield for Sergio Busquets, who stayed on the bench until late. That let Mathieu start in defense, and he responded in fine fashion with a goal.
Benzema started his excellent performance when he almost caught Barcelona waiting for an offsides call that never came as he spotted Ronaldo asking for a cross. Ronaldo’s volley from a tight angle rattled the upright, and was a warning of what was to come.
Barcelona continually went at Madrid right back Dani Carvajal through Neymar, but the Brazil striker had several miscues in his passing. Messi, meanwhile, wasn’t much more effective on the right side of Barcelona’s attack, and Suarez was kept in check by the more physical Pepe.
Messi did succeed in assisting on Barcelona’s opener when he curled in a free kick for Mathieu to head past goalie Iker Casillas before Sergio Ramos could recover his position.
But Madrid never blinked and soon turned the flow of the match back in its favor.
Ronaldo leveled on an attack after Neymar wasted a great opportunity when he redirected Suarez’s hard strike into Casillas arms.
Seconds later, Benzema’s great no-look backheeled flick set up the Ballon d’Or winner, who used the tip of his right boot to stab a shot under goalie Claudio Bravo. Ronaldo, who was booed every time he touched the ball, drew added ire from the crowd when he gestured for them to “calm down” after his goal.
Ronaldo’s 31st league goal left him one shy of Messi’s competition-high tally of 32.
The first half ended with the rare sight of Barcelona struggling to hold the ball as Madrid’s pressure almost gave it the lead before halftime.
Ronaldo drew a save from Bravo with a blistering strike, and Gareth Bale made his only contribution when he went close from the resulting corner kick two minutes before halftime.
Madrid appeared to have picked right back up after the break, as Benzema led a counterattack that ended with him testing Bravo in the 47th.
But that was when Suarez, Messi and Neymar finally got going.
Suarez put Barcelona back in front for good when he controlled Dani Alves’ long pass to beat Madrid’s offside trap with one touch and then slotted a precise strike beyond Casillas and inside the far post as he fell to his knees.
“Very few players can score a goal like he did, and that is why we signed him,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said about Suarez. “He can decide games. He is pure scorer, who needs very little to finish. But he also combines well and understands his teammates.”
This time Madrid did wither, as it was slowed by tired legs and hampered by bookings. Madrid ended with five yellow cards, to Barcelona’s four.
Neymar mustered two spectacular solo runs through Madrid’s midfield and back line, only to blast the ball high in the 68th and hit a defender three minutes later.
It was then Messi’s turn to flash a shot just by the upright before he set up Neymar, who again fired wide in the 74th.
Elsewhere, Sevilla beat Villarreal for the third time in 11 days to stay in striking distance of the top four teams with a 2-0 win.
Real Sociedad rallied for a 3-1 won over bottom-side Cordoba, while Deportivo La Coruna’s winless run reached six games after drawing 0-0 at home with Espanyol.