Suarez forlorn as Atletico moment of weakness keeps Real Madrid in title hunt

By Sports Desk March 07, 2021

Luis Suarez scored a dazzling goal and was named man of the match, but on the day his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard finally became a league champion, did Suarez have his own 'Gerrard's slip'?

Championships are often decided on fine margins, and it is almost seven years since Liverpool's Premier League title hopes were brutally hit by Chelsea, when Gerrard's famous stumble let in Demba Ba to score. Manchester City snatched the silverware from the long-time favourites, and Liverpool had to wait another six years before landing the trophy.

Gerrard has managed Rangers to the Scottish title and Suarez is attempting to power Atletico to LaLiga silverware, and on Sunday it seemed all the glory would be his after he fired the Rojiblancos into an early 1-0 lead over Real Madrid, a typically flamboyant finish from a player some thought was washed up at Barcelona barely six months ago.

How he has been revived this season under Diego Simeone, and what a moment it would be were he and Atletico to carry off the title in Spain this year.

But this game at the Wanda Metropolitano finished 1-1, and Suarez will know he is partly responsible for the home side not seeing out victory.

In the 87th minute, Atletico had a glorious chance on the counter-attack to go 2-0 in front. Suarez, in plenty of space inside the Madrid half, could not find the pass that would have sent Saul Niguez through on goal, instead pushing his team-mate wide, and the chance was snuffed out.

Within seconds, Madrid were encroaching on the Atletico penalty area, Karim Benzema on the ball. His pass to Casemiro was carefully returned to the feet of the Frenchman, who burst beyond the penalty spot and finally found a way past Jan Oblak.

Kingpins, that's what Suarez and Benzema are to their teams. Like Gerrard at Liverpool. They are the players whose influence is felt throughout the team, the squad, the club and beyond.

Suarez walked off with an apologetic look at full-time, tracked to the tunnel by television cameras. He had the game in his hands, and he dropped it. Madrid are still in this title race, and five points behind feels an awful lot better than the prospect of eight adrift, which was looming as Suarez picked his pass to Saul.

This was a result that would have been cheered in Barcelona, if they were paying attention in Catalonia and not all-consumed by the elections for a new club president.

Maybe a Madrid win would have been an even better result for Barcelona's title prospects, but nobody among the Blaugranas would dare admit that.

Barcelona sit second, just three points behind Atletico now, and Simeone's team must still visit Camp Nou. How Suarez must be relishing that, and how he must be relieved that Atletico remain in the box seat in this three-team battle.

He was excellent for large parts of this game, hitting the target with four of his six shots and typically delighting in winding up the opposition.

Benzema, by contrast, looked far from sharp until the final half hour, when the player who was returning from a three-week injury lay-off found something extra.

Zidane had labelled Benzema "a joy for football" before this game, but by the break he had registered three attempts, none of which hit the target; a tame shot and two stray headers.

This game seemed ripe for Atletico to end their nine-game winless run in LaLiga games against Madrid (D5 L4), with Marcos Llorente's skilful evasion of Nacho and Suarez's world-class finish from the pass that followed a real treat for the eyes. It was the Uruguayan's 10th goal in 13 LaLiga games against Madrid.

It was Suarez's 17th goal from his 29th shot on target this season in LaLiga, and by early in the second half the expected goal (xG) rating for each side showed Atletico were leading by 1.2 to 0.4.

Slowly, though, the chances began to flow for Madrid, Oblak making a string of magnificent saves, including two in quick succession from Benzema, who was coming into his own as others tired. Finally, Benzema got his reward for persistence. It finished a 1.8-1.8 draw on xG, 1-1 on the scoreboard.

And now Atletico are 10 league games without a win against their neighbours.

"We know how difficult this championship is," Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, pointing to how Madrid and Barcelona have been gradually reeling in Atletico in recent weeks.

It may get a whole lot harder now.

Related items

  • Rashford a doubt for Man Utd's clash with Burnley, confirms Solskjaer Rashford a doubt for Man Utd's clash with Burnley, confirms Solskjaer

    Marcus Rashford is a doubt for Manchester United's Premier League clash with Burnley on Sunday, boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

    The England international did not make it off the substitutes' bench during United's 2-0 win over Granada on Thursday, a result which sealed a 4-0 aggregate victory to book a Europa League semi-final against Roma.

    Rashford – who is suffering from an ongoing foot injury – took his tally to 20 for the season in the first leg, making him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

    The 23-year-old has missed just three games for United this season and Solskajer said he will give Rashford as long as he needs to prove his fitness. 

    "It's a big bonus that he didn't have to put any pressure on his foot [against Granada]," Solskjaer told a media conference. "I have got to hope he can be available and not make it worse. That is the decision I have got to make, so fingers crossed.

    "He wasn't due to be on the bench really. He didn't train yesterday [Wednesday] but, just in case, he put his hand up and said 'if needed, I could do a job'. 

    "So, it is a decision I have got to make on Sunday morning. But he is important for us. It is a difficult one. You have to go by how Marcus feels in a couple of days."

    United host Burnley at Old Trafford looking to win five consecutive Premier League games for the first time since they won their first six under Solskjaer's leadership in January 2019. 

    While another three points would take them another step closer to sealing a top-four finish, it is unlikely to help them rein in leaders Manchester City, who have an 11-point lead over their neighbours, having played a game more. 

    Solskjaer is not prepared to write off United's title chances just yet, but he does concede it seems improbable that City will drop enough points to allow them back into the race. 

    "Of course we'll never give up," he said. "Manchester United will never, ever give up. This club has had too many setbacks and too many great comebacks to have it in our DNA. 

    "Is it realistic? No, probably not. When you have a team that is so consistent as Manchester City have been, you don't expect them to lose three games of the last six. 

    "As long as we do our job, we want to finish the season strong and go one game at a time."

    With a seven-point lead over Leicester City, United look well placed to improve on their third-placed finish last season. 

    While Solskjaer is pleased with his side's progress this term, he will not be satisfied until they have won the Premier League title for the first time since Alex Ferguson's last season in charge in 2012-13. 

    "You've got to make progress, step by step, that's the reality," he explained. "If we can manage second place and keep winning and get second, if Man City win all games and we win ours, you want to finish strongly. 

    "Third last year, second this, close to a trophy. It's progress. It's not the end game; the end game is winning the league. But we are not in the era of Sir Alex and we've had a transformation period since he left.

    "But it's progress, step by step, and if we do that well enough, that is when you get trophies and league titles which, of course, is our ambition."

  • Rashford sends message to Smalling after reports of armed burglary ordeal Rashford sends message to Smalling after reports of armed burglary ordeal

    Marcus Rashford sent his support to Chris Smalling after the former Manchester United defender was reportedly a victim of an armed burglary.

    Smalling and his family were said to have been at home in the Appia Antica district of Rome when three men with guns broke into the property and demanded a safe be opened.

    The burglars reportedly fled with Rolex watches and jewellery and a small sum of cash.

    La Gazzetta dello Sport said that a call to police was made by Smalling's wife at around 05:00 local time (04:00 GMT) on Friday, with an investigation subsequently launched.

    United striker Rashford sent a message to his former club-mate, writing on Twitter: "Thinking about you @ChrisSmalling and your lovely family. So sorry to wake up to the news this morning. Can’t imagine how you're feeling but I hope you're ok."

    Smalling has been injured recently and did not play on Thursday when Roma edged past Ajax to reach the Europa League semi-finals, with United awaiting them in the last four.

  • Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden's sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.

    Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development, opting to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.

    A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.

    Guardiola's cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City's most impressive players this campaign.

    The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City's scorers' list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden's latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

    His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).

    But asked if he can take credit for Foden's development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.

    "It's not about what we believed in the past, it's about what they show on the grass," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

    "So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it's about the present.

    "In the present it doesn't matter what we have done, it's what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.

    "It's the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It's as simple as that.

    "Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He's going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day."

    While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.

    Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.

    "If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious," said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.

    "Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them."

    Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined "big chances" (12) and both are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.

     

    Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.