Real Madrid 3 – 4 Barcelona
Real Madrid XI: Lopez, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Modric, Alonso, Di Maria, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Barcelona XI: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas, Messi, Neymar
“This game will not decide who wins the title but it may decide who loses it”, a great quote from the commentator as Real took the field against Barca tonight. This may only have been true in the case of a Barcelona defeat however. They would then find themselves seven points behind their biggest rivals with Atletico Madrid also four points clear of them. Put simply, Barcelona needed a result.
Straight from the kick-off it was clear to see the pressing game that Real were imposing on Barcelona. They did not give them a second on the ball, yet Barca still managed to settle right into their usual passing game. It took only three minutes for the first chance of the game. Messi broke in the inside-right position and played a perfectly-timed ball into the path of Neymar just inside the right corner of the box. Neymar’s shot was straight at Lopez, an easy save for the Real goalkeeper. A minute later it was the turn of the home-side with Bale doing good work on the right-wing, taking the ball from the Barcelona defence and playing Benzema in at the near post. However the Frenchman’s shot was scuffed and went well wide.
In the seventh minute Barcelona pushed forward. Messi received the ball in a central position halfway inside the Madrid half. He took his time and picked out Iniesta who was bombing forward from the left and into the box. Messi’s pass had been perfectly-weighted and Iniesta took a touch the control it and then he powered it home with his left foot, giving Lopez no chance. El Clasico was still in its infancy but Barcelona were off-and-running.
As would be expected Real began to assert themselves more in search of an equaliser immediately after Iniesta’s strike. All of Barcelona’s problems were being caused by Di Maria on the left. He was in scintillating form. Di Maria had a fantastic run on the left and into the box after twelve minutes. He managed to squeeze the ball back to Benzema who was eight yards from goal but he blazed it over when he really should have at least made Valdes work. At the other end, two minutes later, Iniesta played a ball from deep which put Messi clean through on goal. Uncharacteristically, the little Argentinian wizard pulled his shot low and well wide to the right of Lopez’s goal.
It was a very open game from the start and Barcelona were playing well, very systematically. Real were trying to get control but their main men, Bale and Ronaldo, had been very quiet.
Di Maria however was another story. The winger was completely psyched-up, making an impact on the game wherever he could. After twenty minutes Di Maria put a cross in from the left which Benzema met with his head. It looked as if Valdes had saved it but the ball found its way inside the far-post, leaving Valdes and Barca distraught, 1-1.
Three minutes later and it was Di Maria making a nuisance of himself again. Another great ball in found Benzema and this time the finish was sublime. Benzema killed the pace of the cross on his thigh before letting the ball drop for a right-footed volley into the corner from eight yards out, 2-1 Real. It was nearly another for Benzema within two minutes after more brilliant play on the left from Di Maria. His cross came to Benzema at the back-post. Again he took his time, trying to place a left-footed finish back in the far corner of the net but Pique was there to clear it off the line.
Real had been defending well as a unit since conceding the opener. Then late in the first-half, the forty-first minute, a piece of Messi brilliance created the equaliser. He played the ball through to Neymar in the box. The young Brazilian was crowded out but somehow the ball made its way back to the incoming Messi. He made no mistake finishing low at the near-post, 2-2. Pepe and Fabregas had a very amusing, pathetic clash in the aftermath / celebrations of Messi’s goal resulting in both of them receiving yellow cards.
The home-fans almost had another goal to cheer before the break. Carvajal put in a great cross from the right but Benzema’s header went just wide as he directed it back to the side it came from. It was 2-2 at the break.
The second-half took some time to come to life. Bale put Benzema through on the right for the first chance of the half. Benzema’s shot was straight at Valdes though.
In the fifty-third minute Real won a penalty. The virtually non-existent Ronaldo burst into the Barca box on the left and was clipped by Dani Alves. Replays showed the trip to have taken place outside the box but the penalty was given. Ronaldo put the spot-kick low in the bottom-left corner. Valdes was close but could not keep it out. 3-2 to Real.
Minutes later and Real Madrid nearly added a fourth. Benzema showed great awareness of his surroundings, putting a backheel into the path of Bale on the right-hand side but Valdes had advanced well and put the Welshman’s effort wide.
Real were looking good value for their lead at this stage and in turn would now be hot favourites to take the La Liga title. Barcelona had other ideas however. Neymar received the ball in the box, took a quick touch away from his followers and was clipped, very slightly, by Sergio Ramos. The Spanish International defender was shown a red card for the professional foul. Up stepped Messi and put his penalty into the right-hand corner, no chance for Lopez. 3-3 and game on. Ancelotti took Benzema off immediately and brought in young French defender, Raphael Varane. Martino took Neymar off for Pedro minutes later.
Barcelona really began to up their game now and took control at the Bernabeu. Messi laid the ball off to Alves in the seventy-third minute. The Brazilian right-back hit it perfectly and his shot beat Lopez easily but rebounded out from the foot of the post and was cleared by the Real defence.
Ten minutes later and Barca were attacking again. Iniesta ran at Carvajal and Alonso from the left-wing position. He was inside the box when Alonso and Carvajal sandwiched him, bringing him down. The penalty was given. Again Messi stepped up. He picked the same side but this time put it in the top-corner with a perfectly executed penalty, 3-4. Alonso was booked after the penalty for dissent.
Happily for Barcelona there was no more goalmouth action. They had come to the Bernabeu and defeated Real Madrid when anything less than a win would have put a serious dent in their title hopes. Real finished the day looking extremely frustrated. Ronaldo had gone missing, having very little impact except for winning the penalty from Alves. Come the end of the season it may turn out that Atletico Madrid were the real winners here. They finished the day at the top of La Liga after their 2-0 win at Betis. The run-in is going to be one of the best in years in La Liga.
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