Barcelona captain Lionel Messi gave former striker and good friend Luis Suarez a warm welcome on his first return to the Camp Nou on Saturday as an Atletico Madrid player.
Suarez took to the pitch for the first time since leaving Barcelona in the summer of 2020 and received a warm embrace from the Barcelona captain ahead of what is a crucial match for both teams in the race to be crowned Spanish champions.
Barcelona also welcomed Suarez back to the Camp Nou ahead of kick-off.
The duo’s friendship was quickly put aside once referee Mateu Lahoz whistled for the game time to start. Suarez took just minutes to crash into Messi inside the Atletico Madrid half and concede a free-kick.
The Uruguay international also tangled with Marc-Andre ter Stegen during the first half which left the goalkeeper pretty unimpressed by his former teammate’s actions.
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Koeman Talks Suarez Threat
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman spoke about Suarez and the threat the striker will pose ahead of the match at a news conference. The Dutchman admitted it would be strange to see Suarez lining up at the Camp Nou in the red and white of Atletico.
“It will probably be strange for Suarez and for our players, he was here for many years,” he said, as reported by Diario Sport. “But we are professionals. Everyone will give their all to win the game. There’s no need to go round in circles on this. We have to focus on him but also on Atletico’s other players.”
Suarez missed the first game between the two teams earlier this season at the Wanda Metropolitano after testing positive for Covid-19. The Uruguay international has scored 19 goals in 28 La Liga games for Atletico this season.
Meanwhile, Koeman will have to watch the match from the stands as he completes a two-match ban after being sent off against Granada. Barca appealed the suspension but saw the decision upheld.
One Change For Barcelona
Koeman made just one change to his side for Saturday’s crunch match. Center-back Oscar Mingueza returned to the backline after missing out against Valencia last time out and replaced Ronald Araujo.
The 21-year-old, who signed a contract extension until 2023 at the end of April, started alongside Gerard Pique and Clement Lenget in central defense. Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba featured once again as wing-backs with Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, and Pedri in midfield. Antoine Griezmann and Messi completed the line-up.
Yet Barca had to make change change early in the game when Busquets was forced off with injury. The midfielder had to be substituted after taking a knock to the head and was replaced by 18-year-old talent Ilaix Moriba.
Saturday’s match could prove vital with regards the title race. A victory for Barca would see the Catalans move above Diego Simeone’s side in the table with just three games of the 2020-21 season left to play.