Suarez says ball in Messi's court as Barca keep up chase

BARCELONA • Barcelona striker Luis Suarez hopes team-mate Lionel Messi will follow his lead by signing a long-term contract to see out the remainder of his prime years at the Nou Camp.

Suarez celebrated a new five-year deal by scoring twice in a 4-1 rout of Espanyol on Sunday as Barca closed to within three points of Real Madrid (37) at the top of La Liga.

However, the Uruguayan was still overshadowed by a series of astonishing moves from Messi.

The Argentinian proved that his ability to excite has no foreseeable expiry date, with a virtuoso display in which his team-mates and opponents were equally enthralled by his magic.

The five-time World Player of the Year produced two exhilarating solo runs in the space of a minute in the second half that led to Suarez and Jordi Alba scoring and capped his stunning display with a deserved goal late on.

David Lopez claimed a consolation goal for Espanyol.

Messi has only 18 months left on his current Barca deal and it was reported that contract talks have yet to begin.

"He is a big boy and knows what he has to decide," Suarez told Spanish TV channel Movistar.

"He also knows where he is happy and we hope for everyone's benefit he stays here, but he is the one that has to take the decision.

"Leo's move (for the second goal) is a PlayStation move that only he can do."

Despite Barca's upturn in form in recent weeks, Real Madrid still maintain a firm grip on the title race as they also have a game in hand to go with their three-point lead.

Barca coach Luis Enrique admitted Real's early season form has been tough to live with.

However, he is hopeful Madrid suffer a spring slump similar to that which Barca suffered last year in losing three straight La Liga games in April as the demands of travelling to Japan for Club World Cup duty took their toll.

"What interests us now are the six months left of the season and the objective is to get back to winning more titles," said Enrique.

"To do that we are on the right course.

"Perhaps in La Liga we are not in the position we would like, but we have to accept Real Madrid are posting spectacular numbers and we haven't been as consistent at home as we are used to.

"There is still a long way to go. Last year showed what can happen in the final weeks of the season and we will give it everything until the end."

Enrique also confirmed he has given an early Christmas break to Messi, Suarez, Neymar and Gerard Pique, ruling them out of Wednesday's Copa del Rey last-32, second-leg clash with Hercules.

The sides are tied at 1-1.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Suarez says ball in Messi's court as Barca keep up chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe