The El Clasico was hardly a classic as Real Madrid ran out 2-1 winners to effectively end Barcelona’s title dreams for one season, ending a 54-match unbeaten run at the Camp Nou. A scrappy goal from Sami Khedira put the visitors into the lead before Alexis Sanchez poked home an equaliser twenty minutes before time. Unfortunately for Guardiola, the league leaders soon ran out into the lead again just minutes later thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo winner.
Both Barca and Real headed into the El Clasico coming off the back of similar defeats in Europe – something which has been uncharacteristic of the Spanish clubs this season. Madrid will be out to thwart Bayern after their 2-1 loss whilst Barcelona will be seeking revenge in the Camp Nou after a 1-0 loss in London against Chelsea.
With five matches to play, Barcelona simply needed to beat Real Madrid at the Camp Nou or they could wave their La Liga chances goodbye. With four points being the difference, a win for the home side would’ve put the deficit down to just one – making it a straight four-match shootout for the league title.
Another race hotting up is for the La Liga golden boot as both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have netted 41 times this season with Messi still four short of equalling Gerd Muller’s record of 67 goals in a football season.
Prior to the this contest, Real Madrid has taken just the one point from the past seven league matches against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, losing 20 out of a possible 21 points to play for.
Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique were left on the bench for the home side with Alexis Sanchez dropped to the bench through injury which gives Thiago and Cristian Tello the chance to start whilst Mourinho left his side unchanged from the 2-1 defeat in Munich. Madrid have had a 10-point deficit slashed to just four point in the space of a month thanks to Barca’s 11-match league winning streak but retained a 7-point deficit going into the final four matches thanks to a win in Barcelona.
The two clubs had been tied at 86 wins apiece prior to the match on the head-to-head record, and prior to the contest at the Camp Nou, Madrid have led the bragging rights by wins for 80 years. Guardiola lost only his second El Clasico contest out of 15 matches, ending a 54-match unbeaten home run.
It was Real Madrid who made the early running, just like in the reverse league fixture and, typically, Cristiano Ronaldo makes Victor Valdes produce a fine save from a header in the opening four minutes. Just when it seemed like Barca hadn’t got into their stride, Dani Alves bulleted through, intercepting a poor pass only to be thwarted by an onrushing Iker Casillas in a high energy opening for the top two Spanish teams.
Barcelona were struggling to find any sort of possession like they had found in midweek against Chelsea due to the high level of pressing that Mourinho had evidently instructed and ingrained his Madrid side with.
Real Madrid then took the lead due to yet another Victor Valdes mistake, just like in the reverse fixture at the Bernabeu. Valdes thwarted Pepe’s header and dropped the ball when it mattered and Carles Puyol couldn’t keep Khedira out who poked the opener from a few yards out to take the lead in the Clasico.
Now Madrid had got the advantage they needed to just sit back, allow full concentration on defensive play and soak up as much pressure as Barcelona could heap upon them. Real were still hitting Barca on the counter attack, Ronaldo’s sighter across the six yard box served as a warning for the home side who looked to dominate the rest of the half, with chances through Tello and Iniesta shortly after the opener.
The cause for concern for the home side was the choice in plumping for Busquets and Mascherano – two holding midfielders – as the defensive pairing with Puyol out on the right back berth with Alves in front of him and Pique on the bench. They were looking unusually frail on the backline with the visitors contrasting this, almost resembling a lorry through which there was no access for the likes of Messi and co.
Lionel Messi waved, with just a slight flicker, his magic wand to play Xavi in one-on-one with Casillas and the Spanish midfielder put the ball past his Spanish compatriot in Casillas but the ball whistled past the post with just inches in the matter.
To buck the trend of having 10 players sent off in the last 10 Clasicos, only two players were booked in the first half and another trend to be bucked was the form of Barcelona who had just the one player above 6 foot in height, were looking second best for the first time in a long time.
The youngster Tello, who had largely underperformed in his third league appearance found himself almost like a rabbit at headlights, hammering a one-on-one chance about 5 goal’s worth over the bar. The second half almost resembled a game of attack against defence – taking into account that this is one of the world’s greatest sides being pinned to their own half by the greatest.
However, the cute, intricate football from the hosts was being beaten by the strong and domineering visitors and Casillas hadn’t been tested for large chunks of the match which proves how little the hosts deserved to win the contest, for the first hour or so of play at least.
It seems that the young master, Guardiola’s supposed shrewd line-up was a wrong one. Guardiola’s side were being restricted to long range efforts and it was Xavi who once again went close for the hosts, with a shot whistling past the upright.
Alexis Sanchez was thrown into the mix with just twenty minutes remaining and the substitution reaped immediate rewards. Messi’s bright run at the Real defence allowed him to feed Tello through on goal but his and the subsequent effort was thwarted from Casillas before Sanchez forced the Spaniard into a third save but Sanchez’s rebound found the net.
If you label the two previous goals as scrappy then the Real frontman, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal just 2 minutes and 19 seconds after Sanchez’s leveller was anything but. The counter attack was swift and Mesut Ozil threaded the Portuguese forward through on goal and his calm finish threw Real back into the lead with his 54th goal of the campaign and his fourth in the past five El Clasicos.
If Ronaldo was vacant in previous Clasicos it was the turn of the Argentine, Lionel Messi who looked lifeless and without threat at the Camp Nou. Ronaldo’s turned out to be the winning goal, it killed the game off, and what looks like the host’s title dreams simultaneously.
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano (Pedro 77), Busquets, Xavi (Sanchez 69), Thiago, Tello (Fabregas 81), Iniesta, Messi
Subs Not Used: Pinto, Pique, Montoya, Keita
Booked: Busquets, Mascherano
Scored: Sanchez 70’
Real Madrid: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrao, Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Di Maria (Granero 74), Ozil (Callejon 89), Ronaldo, Benzema (Higuain 90)
Subs Not Used: Adan, Albiol, Marcelo, Kaka
Booked: Pepe, Xabi Alonso, Ozil, Granero
Scored: Khedira 17’, Ronaldo 73’