Focus on bolshy Bale, under-fire Suarez ahead of Copa Clasico

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Barcelona's Luis Suarez have come under the spotlight for varying reasons in the build-up to the Copa del Rey Clasico semifinal.

Focus on bolshy Bale, under-fire Suarez ahead of Copa Clasico

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Barcelona's Luis Suarez have come under the spotlight for varying reasons in the build-up to the Copa del Rey Clasico semifinal.

Santiago Solari dodged seven questions about Gareth Bale on Tuesday after his bolshy reaction to scoring against Levante last weekend still the major topic of discussion.

Madrid faces Barca in the second leg of the cup semifinal on Wednesday, and then again in La Liga four days later.

READ | Bale should quit LaLiga for Premier League return – Berbatov

Solari refused to criticise or defend Bale's behaviour after starting him only twice in the eight matches since the 29-year-old returned from a calf injury in January.

Madrid's coach was asked about Bale's discipline, commitment and form but refused to be drawn, insisting his team's focus was only the game.

Asked if he had spoken to Bale about the incident against Levante, Solari said: “There are some things that stay in the dressing room and that remains private.”

Bale was left out of the starting line-up at the City of Valencia Stadium and after coming on to convert a second-half penalty, he remained stony-faced while brushing off attempts from team-mates to congratulate him.

“He won us the game,” said Solari after the 2-1 win. “The players can celebrate goals how they want, as long as they score.”

It was the second time this month that Bale's response to a goal has caused controversy.

After scoring in a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid two weeks ago, Bale seemed to make an obscene gesture towards the Atletico fans, which could yet see him banned for the Clasico on Wednesday.

The Spanish Football Federation is yet to decide but if found guilty, Bale could be suspended for both upcoming games against Barcelona.

Vinicius Junior has contributed to Bale's problems, his blistering form on the left of Madrid's front three making him all-but indispensable from Solari's line-up.

Vinicius Junior's performances on the left wing has pushed Bale out of the starting XI. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

 

“He has arrived with and demonstrated his humility and his talent,” Solari said. “The rest of the team respects him and has always tried to help him. He brings talent, effort, humility and a desire to learn.”

Respite for Suarez

In the other corner, Suarez has endured a difficult few weeks, but he appears to have taken a weight off his shoulders at the perfect time.

READ | Solari enjoyed Bale's 'rage' in match-winning cameo

Deep into stoppage time at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday, Lionel Messi found a pocket of space like only he can, nonchalantly chesting the ball and then dropping it over the defence for Suarez to find the net.

The Uruguayan striker produced his trademark celebration, his expression suggesting the goal was as routine as the previous 168 in a Barcelona shirt.

But, inside, Suarez was surely overcome with relief, for his clinching goal in the 4-2 win at Sevilla ended a five-match drought across all competitions and saw him net in LaLiga for the first time since January 20.

Ahead of the two Clasicos, it has been a problematic time for Suarez, who has arguably been questioned and criticised like at no other point in his Barcelona career.

Central to the criticism was his performance in Barca's 0-0 draw at Lyon in the Champions League last-16 first leg, as Suarez struggled immensely – his first touch, finishing and movement all appearing muddled.

Barcelona skipper and talisman Messi is likely to be rested for the Copa semifinal clash. PHOTO: AP   -  AP

 

Ernesto Valverde was quick to defend him, adamant that he would be have been more worried if the chances were not flowing.

While that seems a reasonable observation, there is little doubt Suarez has suffered.

KILLER INSTINCT ON THE WANE?

In Suarez's first 23 matches of the season across all competitions, he scored 14 and set up another seven, converting 15.73 per cent of his shots in that period.

READ | Valverde dismisses Solari complaints over fixture scheduling

Since scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Eibar on January 13, Suarez's form has dipped.

In 11 matches on all fronts, he has scored only three goals and laid on just one to team-mates, but the most worrying aspect is his conversion rate of 9.09 per cent.

His most recent goal on the road in Europe's elite competition was against Roma in September 2015.

Back to his best for Barca is Messi, who may be rested for the cup semifinal after scoring a stunning hat-trick, the 50th of his career, against Sevilla.

Asked if Madrid's players fear Messi this week, Solari said: “For those that compete at this level, this word does not exist in football.”

In Messi's absence, the Clasico provides Suarez the perfect opportunity to bite back at his critics.

With inputs from Omnisport