Luis Suarez rammed home four goals and set up three more against Deportivo La Coruna to put Barcelona’s title charge back on track in spectacular fashion on Wednesday night.
After a run of just one win in six games in all competitions, during which Suarez was accused of both kicking and elbowing opponents, the Uruguay striker put football first at the Riazor and helped Barcelona restore both their pride and focus.
Just when it seemed they’d thrown it all away, knocked out of the Champions League and burning up their own nine-point lead in La Liga, with criticism swirling around the head of coach Luis Enrique, the magical front three connected once more and ripped their bewildered Galician opponents to shreds.
The ‘MSN’ appeared disjointed in recent weeks, but after showing signs of life in the 2-1 defeat by Valencia at the weekend, Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar got their act together and found the net.
Ivan Rakitic and Marc Bartra got the other goals, but this night was all about Suarez, who guaranteed Barcelona kept the fate of La Liga in their hands.
They opened the scoring after 11 minutes, when Messi’s shot forced a corner. Rakitic whipped it in and Suarez, wrestling Sidnei out of the way, knocked it home from two yards.
Deportivo cried for a foul and they had a reasonable argument, with the Uruguayan’s manoeuvre to displace Sidnei ungainly at best. But things haven’t been going Barcelona’s way recently, so the luck was welcome.
They had two more big helpings of luck in the 18th and 19th minutes, when Celso Borges spurned his side’s best chances. First he reached a ball looped over the defence but could only prod it straight at Claudio Bravo.
Then he controlled Cani’s deflected shot six yards out, but with Bravo sprawled on the floor he dallied and then saw his shot blocked by a desperate, scrambling Marc Bartra, before Oriol Riera smashed the rebound wide.
Bartra was in for the suspended Gerard Pique, making his first league start since October, but after this early spell of Deportivo danger, it was all Barcelona.
Having seen the defence risk throwing their lead away, Suarez then doubled it. Iniesta fed Messi, who played a sublime no-look pass into the feet of Suarez. The striker took a touch to control it and a second to fire it past Manu Fernandez.
It was like the past month had never happened, a month in which Barcelona had won just one of six matches, losing three consecutive league games for the first time since 2003.
However, the last two times Barcelona played Deportivo they went two goals up before ending up drawing 2-2. So what they needed was a third, which Suarez should have provided.
The striker is capable of the sublime and the ridiculous and his miss after Dani Alves cut the ball across the six-yard box fell into the latter category. Misjudging the cross Suarez swung and missed, with the ball bouncing off his standing leg.
It didn’t matter. He completed his hat-trick in the second half and then some, but not before creating a goal for Ivan Rakitic.
Suarez’s chipped pass across the box cut out three Deportivo defenders, with the Croatian all alone at the far post to smash home the goal which effectively sealed Barcelona’s victory and opened the floodgates.
Barcelona’s No 9 got his third when Messi slipped him in and he rolled the ball past Manu, before making it four when Neymar unselfishly squared for him.
He found the net with his second bite of the cherry, after Laure Sanabria made his best attempts to block him with the goal gaping and the stopper out of the picture.
Having seen Messi set two up for him, Suarez repaid the favour by rolling the ball to Messi for the Argentine to score.
Then after Bartra’s solo goal, a dribble which started 40 yards out and ended up with him firing home like it was the most natural thing in the world for a central defender to do, Suarez fed Neymar, who jinked his way past the goalkeeper and struck.
The Brazilian ended a personal drought of 579 minutes, and along with his performance it bodes well for the games ahead.
His goal finished the rout, with Barcelona perhaps becoming the first team to win 8-0 away from home during a supposed crisis.
Suarez now has 49 goals for the season and closed the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo as La Liga’s top scorer, one behind Real Madrid’s Portuguese forward’s tally of 31.
The immense pressure on Barcelona has been lifted, the panic is over.