Barcelona 2 Real Madrid 1
Barcelona overcame Real Madrid 2-1 in Sunday night’s Clasico at the Camp Nou to move four points clear at the top of the La Liga table.
Barcelona centre-back Jeremy Mathieu headed his side in front early, but Cristiano Ronaldo equalised before half-time as a Madrid team apparently in crisis pre-game showed great character to fight back into the game.
Just when Los Blancos appeared to be taking control of the game, Barca’s striker Luis Suarez scored a superb goal on the counter-attack, and the Catalans held on pretty comfortably to take control of the Spanish title race.
There were talking-points aplenty, as there generally are in Clasicos, with Barca’s Neymar missing from three yards just before Ronaldo equalised, and Madrid’s Gareth Bale having a goal ruled out for offside, all in the first half.
The teams went into the game with blaugrana fans and pundits talking about a potential treble this season, and Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti reportedly fighting for his job. The visitors however settled pretty quickly and on 12 minutes Ronaldo hit the crossbar from a tight angle after a superb team move had opened up the Barca defence.
But Barca hit the front on 19 minutes, from an unlikely source. Back-up defender Jeremy Mathieu, only in the team due to an injury to Sergio Busquets, got ahead of marker Sergio Ramos to nod in Messi’s perfectly flighted free-kick.
The home team seemed well set, and Neymar really should have made it 2-0 when he hit the ball straight at Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas from just three yards out. Ronaldo made Barca pay for that miss just seconds later, by prodding past Claudio Bravo after Karim Benzema’s superb back-heel had sent the Portuguese clear on goal.
It was not all going Ronaldo’s way however, as referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz booked him for diving, and then ruled the 30 year old had been fractionally offside when flicking on for Bale to score what seemed Madrid’s second goal.
The vast majority of the 98,760 crowd at the Camp Nou was worried at the break, with the game not developing as they had hoped, and Messi looking a peripheral figure.
The pattern continued after the break. It was strange seeing Barca mostly dangerous from set-pieces, and Madrid ripping their opposition apart with intricate passing moves — with another excellently worked chance requiring Bravo to save well from Benzema just after the break.
Luis Enrique’s blaugrana team like to play on the break though, and Suarez’s goal was beautiful in its simplicity. Dani Alves’ long pass caught Ramos out of position, and the Uruguayan took one velvet touch to kill the ball, and a second to expertly slide the ball inside the far corner.
Behind after playing so well, Madrid appeared rattled. As they clocked up the yellow cards, right-back Dani Carvajal was lucky to avoid being sent off when he appeared to knock over Neymar as the last man. The Brazilian then almost scored a goal for the ages, running past three defenders to the edge of the box, but firing too high.
With the visitors looking physically exhausted, Messi finally burst into life with a couple of driving runs through the centre,. But the first lead to a 25-yard curler just wide, and Neymar again missed after he’d been unselfishly played in by his fellow South-American.
Madrid came closest to an equaliser when Benzema’s late long-ranger clipped Pique’s heel and drew a superb save from Bravo. Casillas twice saved late on, most importantly when denying Messi with a smart stop at the near post. Ancelotti’s side can take succour from how well they played for long stages, but they faded badly in the second half. Barca were not at their best, but by the end they were clear winners. Luis Enrique’s new-look side are now heavy favourites to take this season’s La Liga title.
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