Suarez sublime as Barcelona thrash Real in Lopetegui's first Clasico
BARCELONA, Spain -- Three talking points from Barcelona's 5-1 Clasico win over Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.
1. Leaders Barca heaps pressure on under-fire Lopetegui
Luis Suarez scored a hat trick to leave Julen Lopetegui's job hanging by a thread as Barcelona thumped Real Madrid 5-1 in Sunday's Clasico.
Philippe Coutinho's close-range effort and a Suarez penalty eased Barca into a two-goal lead at half-time before Marcelo pulled one back as Madrid threatened a comeback after the break. Barca managed to weather the storm, though, before Suarez put the seal on their first win over Madrid at Camp Nou since 2015. The Uruguayan assured the three points with a 75th-minute header before completing his treble by lifting the ball over Thibaut Courtois. Substitute Arturo Vidal added a late fifth.
Madrid remain without a win in La Liga since they beat Espanyol on Sept. 22, and results this weekend leave them ninth in the table, seven points behind leaders Barca, and with Lopetegui's future shrouded in doubt.
This was Lopetegui's first Clasico as Madrid coach -- it was also the first since 2007 without either Messi, who has a broken arm, or Cristiano Ronaldo -- and it could well be Lopetegui's last. The only doubts, according to media reports in Madrid, lie in who could replace him. But as Madrid conceded five at Camp Nou for the first time since 2010, even those doubts may not be enough to save him now.
Lopetegui cut a lonely figure on the Camp Nou touchline as the Barca goals rained down in the final minutes, with every pass the hosts completed receiving a warm cheer from the 94,000-strong crowd.
The win moves Barca back ahead of Atletico at the top of the table and concludes a difficult week for them, with wins against Sevilla, Inter Milan and now Madrid. Ernesto Valverde, under light pressure seven days ago, can now breath a little easier.
2. Suarez steps up in Messi's absence
The big question all week in Barcelona has been about who would replace Messi in the starting XI. Yet it turns out that was never the question at all, because the player to step up has been someone who's usually playing alongside him: Suarez.
There has been a lot of criticism aimed at Suarez over the past 18 months, sometimes justly, sometimes not. Complaints were raised about his diminished scoring rate, his physical fitness and even his age. (Suarez turns 32 on January.) Yet Sunday's performance will have a lot of observers eating their words.
Suarez has been phenomenal since Messi got injured, showing no signs of strain under the added expectations. It's not just the fact he scored a hat trick against Madrid, but the way he has taken on responsibility for starting attacks and the manner in which he's taken the team forward. He has led by example, harrying, pressing and fighting for every ball.
He wasn't always perfect -- he wasted one great chance to counterattack in the first half and gave away the ball before Marcelo's goal -- but he was Barca's best player. And his final goal, a lovely dinked effort over Courtois, was the finish of a man who has rediscovered his confidence.
3. Madrid fall apart as the end nears for Lopetegui
There was a moment in the second half when it looked like there could be a way out for the embattled Real manager. Marcelo had equalised and Madrid were well on top. Who knows what would have happened if Luka Modric's shot, which screwed off the post and skidded along the goal line, had been two more inches to the left. Those are the margins.
Instead, Madrid conceded the next goal and fell apart. The players looked lost, and it'll be a surprise if Lopetegui is still employed on Monday morning.
All in all, Sunday's heavy defeat should be the conclusion of a miserable five months for Lopetegui. In June, after agreeing to replace Zinedine Zidane at the Santiago Bernabeu, he was sacked by Spain on the eve of the World Cup. The consolation prize for that was a dream trade-off: the chance to manage his country at a World Cup replaced by the opportunity to coach Madrid. Yet the reality has been a nightmare.