Barca thump Real Madrid as ruthless Luis Suarez sticks knife into Julen Lopetegui

Barcelona forward Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. (AP) Photo/Joan Monfort)
Updated 29 October 2018
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Barca thump Real Madrid as ruthless Luis Suarez sticks knife into Julen Lopetegui

(Updates with league positions)
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA, Oct 28 : Barcelona forward Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as his side thrashed arch-rivals Real Madrid 5-1 on Sunday in a highly entertaining ‘Clasico’ which surely will signal the end of hapless coach Julen Lopetegui’s spell in charge of Real.
Leaders Barca opened up a one-point gap at the top of La Liga by condemning Real to their worst defeat in a ‘Clasico’ since Pep Guardiola’s side beat them 5-0 in 2010.
Barca’s Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring in the 11th minute following a slick team move and Suarez doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark by converting a penalty awarded after consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR).
Real had looked lifeless in the first half but produced a courageous display after the break following a tactical switch from Lopetegui. They deservedly pulled a goal back through Marcelo and came close to grabbing an equalizer as Luka Modric struck the post and Sergio Ramos headed narrowly over.
Yet even without their injured talisman Lionel Messi, Barca soon reasserted their authority and ran riot in the final 15 minutes with two more goals from Suarez.
A header from substitute Arturo Vidal further twisted the knife into Real, who have lost their last three league games and are seven points behind Barcelona in La Liga in ninth position.
Barca now lead the standings on 21 points after 10 games, a point clear of Alaves, who won 2-1 at home to Villarreal. Atletico Madrid, who won on Saturday, are third on 19 points.
“This result is a reflection of our entire season, which has been a disaster,” Real midfielder Casemiro told reporters.
“It’s not about tactics or attitude, it’s everything. The players have to run more and fight more. We aren’t playing well and we can’t blame the coach, as the players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch.”
Real looked to be lacking in confidence from the start as Benzema hurriedly hammered a cross from Gareth Bale over the bar when he had plenty of time to bring the ball under control.
Barca, meanwhile, oozed belief and their opening goal was a joy to behold as Ivan Rakitic released Jordi Alba with a chipped pass and the Spaniard rocketed past Nacho, crossing freely into the area for Coutinho to turn the ball in from close range.
Further signs of Real’s nervousness came when Nacho misplaced a pass in the area to the feet of Arthur Melo and it took a magnificent flying save from Thibaut Courtois to beat away the Brazilian’s curling shot.
Barca did extend their advantage when Suarez slammed a spot-kick under the diving Courtois after being tripped by Varane, who was responsible for both goals Real conceded in their shock 2-1 home defeat by Levante last week.
Lopetegui rejigged his formation at the start of the second half, opting for a back-three by hauling off Varane for Lucas Vazquez and his side instantly improved, getting a foothold through Marcelo’s strike.

AGONISINGLY CLOSE
They were agonizingly close to finding an equalizer but Barca continued to look dangerous on the break and Suarez’s bullet header from a standing position killed the game off as a contest.
“We had 15 difficult minutes but we had a great performance,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“The first half belonged to us. They turned things around by playing fullbacks as wingers and we were caught out by it and suffered after their goal. Then we sorted ourselves out and took advantage of their risky approach.”
Uruguay striker Suarez completed his treble with a classy chipped finish while Chile international Vidal struck his first goal for Barca to further humiliate Real. (Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond and Ian Chadband)


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.