No easy games: Suarez makes it eight goals in two games for Barca, Bale leads Madrid comeback
Uruguayan star on fire in another rout by league leaders
Luis Suarez continued his goal splurge by scoring four times to help Barcelona stay atop the Spanish league on Saturday, while Real Madrid needed a stellar performance from Gareth Bale to remain in the title hunt.
Suarez scored his eighth goal in four days to fuel a 6-0 rout of Sporting Gijon, following another four-goal outing in an 8-0 destruction of Deportivo La Coruna on Wednesday.
While Bale managed only half as many, his two goals were critical to lead a 3-2 fightback at Rayo Vallecano in a match that Madrid entered without Cristiano Ronaldo and finished without Karim Benzema due to leg injuries.
Barcelona stayed level on points with Atletico Madrid, which ground out another no-nonsense win, 1-0 win over Malaga following the sending off of coach Diego Simeone at halftime.
Madrid remained a point behind in third place with three rounds left. Barcelona holds tiebreakers against both challengers and will get more rest while Atletico and Madrid appear in the Champions League semi-finals.
With back-to-back wins by a combined score of 14-0, Barcelona has reestablished its command of a competition it looked set to win easily before a stunning run of four rounds without a win threw the race open.
Suarez’s goals at Camp Nou, which all came in the second half and twice from the penalty spot, took him to the top of the league scorers’ list with 34, moving past Ronaldo’s 31.
“I had never done this, not even in practice,” Suarez said. “I am not obsessed with scoring goals, but they are more than welcome if they help the team toward its goal of the league title.”
Lionel Messi opened the scoring for Barcelona, while Neymar added a third penalty against an error-prone Sporting that remained in the relegation zone.
Suarez, who surpassed his 31 for Liverpool that led the English Premier League in 2013-14, gave credit to Messi and Andres Iniesta, who combined to set him up for his first goal in the 63rd.
“Leo is the one who knows what the team needs at all times,” Suarez said. “And Andres’ magic is always there.”
Penalties committed by three different Sporting players let Suarez and Neymar make it a blowout before Ognjen Vranjes left Sporting a man down after receiving his second booking. Suarez fired in his fourth off the post in the 88th.
Under steady rain in the capital, Rayo stunned Madrid with goals by Adrian Embarba and Ladislao “Miku” Fedor by the 14th minute, and winger Bebe created several occasions for the modest hosts to add another.
But Bale’s header pulled one back before Benzema went off with a leg injury and was replaced by Lucas Vazquez. The reserve forward, however, came through with a headed goal of his own in the 52nd.
Just when Madrid’s rally was sputtering, Bale intercepted a pass and raced forward to score the 81st-minute winner.
“Being the hero isn’t important, winning and keeping up the fight for La Liga is,” Bale said. “It was difficult, but we showed great character and spirit to get the three points.”
Thrilled with his team’s comeback, coach Zinedine Zidane was also concerned about Benzema with their Champions League semifinal first-leg at Manchester City on Tuesday.
“We will have to see if [Benzema] can play at City,” he said. “It is a blow.”
While Madrid looks to England, Atletico will focus on Bayern Munich’s visit in the other Champions League semifinal on Wednesday.
Atletico was unfazed by Simeone being banished to watch the second half from the stands as a punishment for a ball being thrown onto the pitch from the dugout.
Malaga defended well until substitute Angel Correa went on. Five minutes later the attacking midfielder struck a long ball that took a deflection to bend around goalie Guillermo Ochoa for the 62nd-minute winner.
“Correa ignited the team,” said Simeone. “He put us on our way to victory at a very important moment, letting us stay in the race until the end.”