Luis Suarez marked the one-year anniversary of his Barcelona debut with a hat-trick as the Spanish champions fought back from a goal down to see off Eibar 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
The Uruguayan made his Barca bow in El Clasico of October last year and, 365 days on, was pivotal as Barca recovered from a sluggish start to move second and keep pace with leaders Real Madrid despite Javier Mascherano’s late red card.
The domestic and European champions, who emerged for kick-off wearing shirts expressing their support for club great Johan Cruyff following his lung cancer diagnosis last week, were stunned when Atletico Madrid loanee Borja Baston took his tally to six goals in his last five games 10 minutes in.
However, Suarez hauled Barca level before the break – capping a wonderful team move involving Sergio Busquets and Sandro Ramirez – before Neymar teed up a second three minutes into the second half. The Uruguayan then completed his treble five minutes from time.
The pair have largely carried Barca in recent weeks amid the absence of injured forward Lionel Messi and combined again as Suarez moved to 10 goals in all competitions to top the club’s scoring charts this term.
Mascherano’s dismissal seven minutes from time mattered little as Suarez bagged his hat-trick with a right-footed effort, Eibar losing for just the second time in the league this season while Barca continue to prosper even without the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta, Rafinha and Sergi Roberto.
Ander Capa had the first effort on target for Eibar three minutes in and, having seen a Suarez strike find the side-netting, the hosts gained an early lead through Baston.
Following a slick counter that Barca would have been proud of, Claudio Bravo denied Keko only for Baston to tuck home the rebound and silence the Camp Nou.
Dani Alves’ block from Takashi Inui soon after kept the score 1-0 before Barca saw penalty appeals turned down when Neymar tangled with Capa in the box.
However, Luis Enrique’s side were back level soon after courtesy of a sublime team goal that began with Busquets finding Ramirez down the right-hand side of the area with an expert pass.
The forward then crossed for Suarez to mark the anniversary of his debut with a well-taken header.
Sandro turned Jordi Alba’s cross wide as Barca sought to complete the turnaround before half-time while Keko’s seemingly goal-bound effort was blocked on the line by Marc Bartra after Dani Alves surrendered possession cheaply.
However, Suarez continued to make the most of his landmark appearance, capitalising on industrious play from Neymar down the left to calmly fire home from inside the area.
Suarez saw a volley well saved by Asier Riesgo before Neymar’s free-kick from the edge of the area hit the wall as Eibar struggled to regain their early rhythm having fallen behind.
Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men threatened briefly in the latter stages but it was Barca who finished the stronger despite Mascherano’s red for apparent dissent – Suarez having the final say five minutes from time as Luis Enrique’s side prepare for a Copa del Rey trip to third-tier Villanovense.
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