[dropcap]B[/dropcap]arcelona took the initiative in the La Liga title race with a 2-1 victory in a tetchy El Clasico fixture against Real Madrid on Sunday, with Luis Suárez proving the hero with a decisive second-half strike.
The victory gives the Camp Nou side a four-point advantage at the table’s summit, with hopes of a momentous treble still alive amongst the Blaugrana fanbase.
Since Pep Guardiola left the Catalan club in 2012, Barcelona have struggled to replicate the exhilarating and vastly successful tiki-taka football that lifted them to almost legendary status.
However, under Luis Enrique, the Camp Nou outfit are starting to fire and have surely been the form team in Europe since the turn of the year.
Interestingly, the current Barcelona side play with considerably different tactics to those employed by the now Bayern Munich manager between 2008 and 2012.
During Guardiola’s tenure, key figure Lionel Messi more often than not operated as the central striker in a false nine capacity, but the Catalan side have been forced to rejuvenate their thinking and tactics to keep opposition on the back foot.
This season, the presence of Suárez has seen Messi return to his position on the right flank, where he has been playing some of the best football of his career over recent months.
Suárez’s presence has diversified Barcelona’s style of play to considerable degree, with Enrique’s men much more direct than Guardiola’s pass-them-to-death teams.
With Madrid’s three-man central midfield choking Barca’s ball-players in the first-half of yesterday’s clash, ironically it was a more forthright approach that decided the game in the hosts’ favour.
As Suárez offered a threat in behind the visiting rearguard, the Uruguayan latched onto a long pass by Dani Alves to finish with aplomb and give his side three vital points.
The former Liverpool star is the archetypal number nine, with his pace keeping opposition defences honest, but his immaculate link-up play fits in well with Barcelona’s possession-focussed side.
Last season the Catalans were guilty in big matches of trying to thread the ball through the eye of a needle, with play becoming very congested in central areas. Messi was stifled to some degree as a result.
However, Suárez’s threat has forced the opposition to drop deeper and increased the amount of space available to likes of Neymar and Ivan Rakitić as a result.
Four-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi has arguably reaped the biggest benefit however, with the Argentine cutting in off his wing to take advantage of retreating defences concerned with Suárez’s intelligent off the ball running.
Crucially, the South American centre forward has assisted more goals in La Liga this term than he has scored, giving an indication of Suárez being much more than a simple goalgetter.
Looking at Suárez’s move to Catalunya, it doesn’t quite fit in with their modern ethos or persona.
In previous years under Guardiola Barca were perceived as holier than holy, while José Mourinho’s Madrid outfit were seen as the badboys and bullies of Spanish football.
With the ex-Liverpool attacker never far away from a controversy, his presence at Camp Nou seems slightly outwith the norm.
Had Suárez ended up at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, he would have been another big-money Galáctico addition, while Barcelona’s splurging on foreign stars has only come to real fruition relativelyrecently.
The Camp Nou side have placed an emphasis on homegrown talent from La Masia rather than relying on transfer spending in recent generations and as such Suárez seemed more destined for the Spanish capital than Catalunya.
Despite these factors and a slow start to life in Spain, Suárez now is a key figure in the Barca side and his presence has played a significant role in the evolving tactical approach of the Catalan giants.
With the Uruguayan’s attributes unique in the Barcelona squad and Messi reinvented due to his presence, Suárez and co will take some stopping this season in their quest to equal Guardiola’s treble-winning campaign of 2008-09.
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