Luis Suarez’s long wait is almost over. The much-maligned forward will make his first appearance for Barcelona tonight against Real Madrid after completing his ban for biting an opponent four months ago at the World Cup.
“(Suarez) will have some minutes for sure, how many is the million-dollar question,” Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said yesterday, after having wavered on the question for most of the week in the run-up to El Clasico.
“It’s an important occasion for him, to play against Madrid, and make his official incorporation with the team.”
Suarez hasn’t played an official match since biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in June.
That earned him his third multi-game suspension for sinking his teeth into an opposing player after also biting rivals while playing for former clubs Ajax and Liverpool.
Undeterred by his latest act of gross misconduct, Barcelona spent 97 million euros to sign the Premier League’s top scorer from last season.
Suarez finishes his ban for his club today, just before Barcelona visit Madrid looking to extend their lead in the Spanish league.
He has made a handful of appearances in friendly matches for Barcelona and Uruguay in the meantime, and is still banned from playing for Uruguay in the Copa America and some World Cup qualifiers next year.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said he was pleased Suarez would return to the pitch, even if it will be at his Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and adding to a formidable attack already featuring Lionel Messi and Neymar.
“He is a fantastic player,” Ancelotti said. “For football and the league it is great news he is back.”
Luis Enrique said he was not worried about a possible provocation of Suarez by Madrid defender Pepe, who is also known for his aggressive outbursts that included kicking Getafe’s Javier Casquero repeatedly in 2009.
“Football is a wonderful sport and there is contact, permitted contact, and a referee whose job it is to judge what takes place,” the former Barcelona and Madrid player said. “We will try for our players to show their best sides. They are grown-ups and they all know one another.”
Luis Enrique also said that holding midfielder Sergio Busquets was fit after a nagging pelvic injury had sidelined him for the past two matches.
Ancelotti, for his part, said defender Sergio Ramos was also fit and would start alongside Pepe.
Besides Suarez’s highly anticipated debut, Messi will be seeking the one goal he needs to equal the league’s all-time leading scoring mark of 251 goals.
The Bernabeu would be the perfect place for the 27-year-old to break the record and team-mate Andres Iniesta would be delighted to see him do it, if only because a Messi brace would mean things were going well in the game. “I just want to see him get past the record. That’d be a good sign for us and mean we are in with a chance of winning,” said Iniesta.
Barca currently sit at the top of the table, four points clear of Real who are third, and Iniesta is not losing focus on the task at hand amid all the hype surrounding the occasion.
“We will be going there with the intention of winning,” he said. “It’d be a big mistake to think that we’ve got a four-point lead and even if we lose we’ll still be top.
“We’re just thinking about playing well, winning and stretching our lead in the table, which would be important, but not decisive at this stage of the season.”
For Real, James Rodriguez is set to play in his first El Clasico after starring against Liverpool in Champions League action on Wednesday and he has hailed the spirit in the camp ahead of the crunch clash. “It will be a tough and complicated match,” he said. “I want to approach it calmly, responsibly and also really be up for it, in order to help the team get the win.
“I’m in good form, as is the whole squad. We have a strong group of players and are united, mentally speaking.”
Rodriguez and Isco are both set to keep their places in the Real attack after Ancelotti confirmed that Welshman Gareth Bale is not yet fit enough after missing the midweek victory at Anfield through injury.
“He was injured a week ago and is not available for tomorrow,” said Ancelotti. “(He is) one of our most important players and has great confidence.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 13 career goals against Barcelona, will be looking to continue his run of having scored in every league game this season with 15 goals in seven games.