BARCELONA: Barcelona ran riot in the Clasico on Sunday as Luis Suarez scored the hat-trick that will surely spell the end of Julen Lopetegui’s spell as Real Madrid coach.
Barcelona were 5-1 winners at the Camp Nou, dominant for all-but a 15-minute spell after half-time when the otherwise hapless Madrid briefly threatened a comeback.
All the failures that have underlined their recent problems under Lopetegui were on show here, poor finishing, dreadful defending and key players performing well below par, let alone their best.
Philippe Coutinho scored the first and Arturo Vidal the last but in between the game belonged to Suarez, who terrorised Madrid from start to finish and made light of Lionel Messi’s injury-enforced absence.
For Lopetegui, it is now one win in six games, as Madrid fall seven points behind Barcelona, who return to the top of the table.
This defeat was reminiscent of the 4-0 thrashing that spelt the end of Rafael Benitez’s time in charge two years ago but while Benitez survived two more months, Lopetegui may not last the week.
Much was made of this being the first Clasico without either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in 11 years but Suarez’s masterclass will mean this contest lives long in the memory.
Madrid looked dazed in possession and dizzy out of it as Barca repeatedly opened them up down the left early on.
Sergio Busquets was allowed time to wait for Jordi Alba’s zooming run past both Gareth Bale and Nacho, with the full-back’s touch on the run perfectly pushed into the area.
Suarez rushed past but Coutinho held his ground by the penalty spot, where Alba found him with the cut-back. It was the move’s 30th pass, the most for a goal in a La Liga Clasico in 13 seasons.
On the touchline, Lopetegui stood motionless. Varane clapped but his team-mates looked shell-shocked. Sergio Ramos thrashed a pass across his own box to Nacho, who hacked it to the feet of Arthur, his shot parried away by Courtois.
Still, Barca needed the help of VAR for the second. Suarez was too quick to the ball at the near post and Varane bundled him over. It was a clear penalty, which Suarez converted for his seventh goal in 11 games against these opponents. His eighth and ninth were still to come.
Gerard Pique should have headed in while a promising Madrid free-kick somehow ended with another Barca sprawl on the counter-attack. The visitors were fortunate to be only two down at half-time but the game was a mirror image after the restart.
Varane had gone off, with a muscle problem the club said, for Lucas Vazquez, with Nacho moving to centre-back. Vazquez was key to Madrid’s goal, his disguised pass allowing Isco to pick out Marcelo, who finished for his third in three games.
Suddenly, it was Barca making the mistakes. Sergio Ramos headed over, Luka Modric hit the inside of the post and Isco’s finish was blocked after Rafinha ran into trouble.
Madrid were less transformed at the back, where Suarez acrobatically volleyed onto the post before Alba fired just wide. As Madrid’s momentum faded, Suarez landed the knock-out blow.
Sergi Roberto chipped a cross into the box but the ball had neither the pace nor the angle to be headed in easily. Suarez, however, generated both himself to leave Courtois stranded.
If that was a masterclass in adaptation, his third was a demonstration of finesse. Ramos was pushed off the ball by Sergi Roberto, who freed Suarez. Suarez feathered the ball over Courtois for his hat-trick.
Madrid were finished but the humiliation was not over yet as Ousmane Dembele crossed for Vidal to head home a fifth. Suarez could even have had a fourth in injury-time but Courtois saved. Five was more than enough.