Gary Lim: Barca's terrific trio too good for Ronaldo and Co
(Jeremy Mathieu 19, Luis Suarez 56)
REAL MADRID 1
(Cristiano Ronaldo 31)
For defenders, this was the stuff of nightmares.
This was a gathering of arguably the most formidable attacking stars the game has witnessed in one match.
This was a demonstration of the assembly of power that has taken place in the Barcelona-Real Madrid arms race.
Barcelona packed their warhead with the mouth-watering trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar at the Nou Camp yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Real's doomsday machine came in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
As the two opposing triumvirates went toe-to-toe, the world watched and gasped.
The confrontation turned out to be a mismatch.
Ronaldo and Co. caved in to the enormity of the occasion.
They withered under the pressure. They were always second-best.
Messi, Suarez and Neymar danced to a rhythm that Real couldn't keep up with.
Their combination of craft and cunning ran their rivals' backline to their knees.
Messi orchestrated proceedings with the level of mastery that the Argentinian has displayed for the past three months.
In a first half which Real appeared superior, it was he who made the first telling contribution - a precise free-kick that set up Jeremy Mathieu to head in the opening goal in the 19th minute.
Neymar did everything right - except score.
From the left, he turned and twisted his way into the penalty box on many occasions, leaving Real's defenders trailing in his wake.
However, when a couple of excellent chances fell his way, the Brazilian couldn't apply the finishing touch.
Perhaps this wasn't his day. But it was definitely Suarez's.
A poor start to his Barcelona career had some wondering if the Uruguayan would ever take off at the Catalan club.
It turned out that he just needed some warming up.
His sizzling recent form has seen him net nine goals in his last 11 games in all competitions.
His take-down from Dani Alves' long ball was superb, and the finish, immaculate.
The 56th-minute goal clinched the hosts a precious win that puts them four points clear of Real in the La Liga standings.
But in reality, it was the harmony and cohesion of the three that made their football flow.
Real struggled in that respect.
Ronaldo's goal, which levelled the score at 1-1 in the 31st minute, was his only saving grace.
The drastic dip in form which followed his Fifa Ballon d'Or win is surely a huge worry for coach Carlo Ancelotti.
It was almost as if the honour had sapped him of desire and focus.
He could have given Real a morale-boosting lead had he managed to score instead of shooting against the crossbar from inside the six-yard box early on in the game.
He sparkled only in short spells in a match which Real needed the Portuguese to come to their rescue.
Bale fared worst in an anaemic performance that put even more doubts into his Real future.
He thought he had scored, only for the official to disallow the goal for offside. That was the only time he got the Real fans excited.
Easily the worst player in the Real team in the match, the Welshman seemed gripped by a fear of making mistakes, and totally went missing in the final stages.
Instead, it was Benzema, the least heralded of Real's front three, who rose to the occasion.
Real's solitary goal was the result of his superb invention - a sublime backheel that set up Ronaldo for his toe-poked goal.
It was also the Frenchman who provided the excellent cross which Ronaldo directed against the woodwork.
His industry caused plenty of problems for the home defence, as he often dropped deep as well as drifted out to the flanks to pull Gerard Pique and Mathieu all over the shop.
If not for goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Benzema might have gotten on the scoresheet himself.
His formidable display, however, proved insufficient to overcome Barcelona's collective offensive brilliance.
Barcelona had Messi, Neymar and Suarez sparkling as one.
But Real had only Benzema pulling his weight, as Ronaldo and Bale battled with their personal demons.
What a mismatch it turned out to be.
"We regret not finishing the game off, but we’re not finished just yet. Barca are only four points ahead and we’ll keep fighting.'
- Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos
- Deportivo 0 Espanyol 0
- Real Sociedad 3 Cordoba 1
- Villarreal 0 Sevilla 2
'My biggest goal for Barca'
SWIFT AND STRONG: Luis Suarez (right) getting the better of Real defender Pepe.
Luis Suarez lauded his El Clasico winner as his biggest goal since moving to Barcelona, as the Catalan giants moved four points clear of Real Madrid with a 2-1 win yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Suarez controlled Dani Alves' ball over the top and fired past Iker Casillas just before the hour mark to hand Barca a huge win.
"It is my most important goal for Barca so far. It has an extra meaning, given the opponents that it was against," said Suarez.
The former Liverpool star's strike came at a crucial juncture in the game, as Real looked the more likely to go ahead after Cristiano Ronaldo had cancelled out Jeremy Mathieu's early opener for Barca.
"I tried to take advantage of the space between the defenders as quickly as possible to not give them time to react. Luckily, it went in," added Suarez.
Barca boss Luis Enrique lauded the Uruguayan's quality and said that is why the club splashed out a club-record fee for the 28-year-old despite his chequered past.
"It is clear the goal is something very few players can do. That is why we signed him. We valued him because he is a player who makes the difference," said Enrique.
"Ever since he arrived, we have been very happy with his performances, his commitment and everything he does for the team."
A third defeat in four games was another huge blow for Real, who led the league by four points just three weeks ago.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti was consoled by his side's much-improved display in the first hour of the game compared to their wretched form in recent weeks.
However, he admitted his side wilted under the pressure of chasing an equaliser for the second time after the break.
"It was a mental problem, not a physical one. We started looking for more difficult passes and that is why the last half-hour didn't go like the first half," said the Italian.
"We are disappointed, but it is better to have better feeling in the way we played. We can have more confidence in the future games in the league and the Champions League."
Suarez admitted that Barca had played a dangerous game in the first half, but had far more control once he had fired them in front for a second time.
"We fell into the trap of playing an end-to-end game which they like and we weren't in control of the game like we normally are. We played very direct and Real are very good at pressing," he said.
"We didn't have the ball in the first half, but we wanted to do better in the second and that's how it went."
Suarez, though, insisted that Barca can't take their foot of the gas, having seen Real blow the same advantage in recent weeks.
"There is a long way to go and the league is very difficult," he said.
"We need to take advantage of the gap we have against very strong opponents in Real. Like in all leagues, you don't know what can happen if you relax a little."
And Ancelotti said his side wouldn't give up the chase in the remaining 10 games of the season.
"At the moment, the league isn't finished. Barca have an advantage, like we had before. In football, anything can happen," he insisted.
6 Luis Suarez’s matchwinner is his sixth goal in his last seven La Liga appearances.