BARCELONA, Spain — With Luis Suarez giving a masterful performance in attack, Barcelona didn’t need Lionel Messi to deal Real Madrid a devastating defeat that could lead to the departure of coach Julen Lopetegui.
Suarez scored a hat trick to lead Barcelona to a 5-1 demolition of Madrid on Sunday, a stinging loss that will crank up the pressure on the already beleaguered Lopetegui who is only a few months into his job.
Madrid’s leading sports dailies and other local media said that Lopetegui’s firing was imminent, with former Chelsea and Italy coach Antonio Conte the leading candidate to replace him.
Wrapped in a winter coat, Messi celebrated with the rest of the packed Camp Nou as Madrid endured its most humbling loss since a 4-0 defeat in Madrid in 2015 and a 5-0 defeat at Barcelona in 2010.
Suarez provide the goals and Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde made the moves that proved critical in crushing a short-lived comeback by the visitors.
“We are very proud to have the best player in the world (Messi) on our team,” Suarez said, “(but) we showed that we are a great team and that we have a great coach.”
The win lifted Barcelona to the top of the Spanish league with 21 points, while Madrid was left languishing in ninth place with 14 points.
Madrid has now gone five rounds without a win, including four losses, in its first season under Lopetegui.
Despite having as many defeats as wins this season, Lopetegui said that he still believed he could turn Madrid’s season around.
“We all know how football works and the one who is ultimately responsible is the coach, but there is more to it and we all win and lose together,” Lopetegui said. “I think that it is early in the season and even though today is a sad day Madrid can have a good year. I still have strength to lead the group.”
The match was the first “clasico” since 2007 to be played without both Messi, who broke his arm last weekend, and former Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
But other than the first 30 minutes of the second half, Barcelona dominated its fierce rival — and European champion — even without its best player.
“Since last week when he was injured everyone was asking how we would cope, and the answer is the one that the team gave today,” Valverde said. “But the sooner he recovers, the better, because we miss him.”
Lopetegui, meanwhile, has been unable to restructure an attack that was built around Ronaldo, who left this summer for Juventus.
Barcelona dominated the first half as it grabbed the ball and didn’t let go.
Left back Jordi Alba was a pest to Madrid from the start. A long ball from Ivan Rakitic left Alba alone after fine control to romp into the area and pick out Philippe Coutinho arriving in a second wave. The Brazil midfielder did his part by providing a cool finish with his left foot to beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the 11th-minute opener.
Barcelona earned a second goal in the 30th with help from a video replay after Raphael Varane barged into Suarez at the edge of the six-yard box.
The referee awarded the spot kick after consulting the video monitor on the sideline, allowing Suarez to step up and perfectly execute the strike by driving a low shot between the post and the outstretched Courtois.
The match briefly swung the other way after the restart.
Lopetegui substituted Varane with Lucas Vazquez at halftime, and the forward played a role in Marcelo pulling one back in the 51st by combining with Isco before his pass was deflected for Marcelo to finish.
Madrid pressed for the equalizer that Luka Modric almost claimed when he was unmarked to hit the post.
Seeing his team struggle, Valverde sent on defender Nelson Semedo and shifted Sergi Roberto into attack.
Suarez soon volleyed a headed pass from Roberto off the upright.
He then linked up again with Roberto twice more to turn what was appearing to be an evenly fought contest into an easy win.
The Uruguay striker used a powerful turn of his neck to fire a header home from Roberto’s pass in the 75th. He then completed his treble in the 83rd by chipping Courtois after Roberto stole the ball from Sergio Ramos.
Arturo Vidal headed in a fifth goal from a pass by fellow substitute Ousmane Dembele with Madrid in disarray.
“We can’t blame the coach. Every single one of us is playing very poorly,” said Madrid midfielder Casemiro. “But that is how our season has gone. It is a disaster.”
By JOSEPH WILSON, By Associated Press