BARCELONA: Barcelona and Real Madrid threw their full attacking forces into the latest ‘greatest’ Clasico at Camp Nou. But this time it was Madrid who came out on top – both in the match and in the race towards the league title.
Jose Mourinho’s Madrid claimed first blood through Sami Khedira, newly-arrived substitute Alexis Sanchez levelled in the 69th then Madrid immediately responded with Cristiano Ronaldo’s 42nd league goal of the season to win the it 2-1.
History had stacked the odds against Madrid despite their four-point lead over the world, European and Spanish champions Barcelona. In their 81 league clashes in the Catalan capital, victory had gone to the hosts on 47 occasions and to Madrid on only 18. Indeed, it was four years since they won and/or scored a goal there in La Liga.
Barcelona, by contrast, were unbeaten in the last seven Liga ‘Clasicos’, having won six and drawn one and are on an 11-match winning streak in the league. They had not lost any of their previous 34 home league games and were undefeated in their last 54 at home in all competitions.
Madrid’s assistant coach Aitor Karanka – Jose Mourinho skipping the pre-match press conference as usual – had insisted that the ‘merenges’ would approach the game much as they had the three previous visits and would be looking for goals.
They came within inches of the first after only four minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo’s header to a corner ricocheted off Carles Pujol and was tipped over the bar by keeper Victor Valdes.
At the other end Iker Casillas raced from goal at speed to dive at the feet of the Dani Alves. Then it was Madrid’s turn to counter again and Sergi Busquets was booked for tripping the fast-breaking Ronaldo on the Madrid left. Madrid then forced a corner on the right and Khedira stretched a leg around Pujol to grab the opening goal after Valdes saved, but could not hold, a header from Pepe.
This was a historic goal, Madrid’s 108th in the league this season, breaking the all-time record set by the Madrid team coached by John Toshack more than 20 years ago.
That goal opened up the game after just 16 minutes but Barcelona should have equalised 10 minutes later. Xavi, however, put through on the right by Messi, saw his angled shot skim low not only past Casillas but just wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.
Pepe collected a first yellow card for Madrid after a body-check with spreadeagled Busquets in the middle of the pitch in the 43rd minute just as torrential rain poured down.
Neither coach made a change at half-time but Barcelona should have been on terms once more eight minutes into the second half when a typical piece of inter-passing opened up the right flank of the Madrid defence only for nerves to get the better of Cristian Tello who ballooned his shot high over Casillas’s goal.
In the 69th minute Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola sent on Alexis Sanchez up front place of playmaker Xavi and, within 90 seconds, he had equalised after Madrid failed to clear the lines properly following a sharp save by Casillas from Tello. The initial assist came, as ever, from Messi.
Barcelona, having dominated possession, enjoyed the moment and relaxed for a matter of seconds – fatally. Ozil drifted wide right and Ronaldo accelerated across from the left to strike superbly beyond Valdes.
Barcelona: Valdés – Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano (Pedro 77) – Busquets, Xavi (Alexis Sanchez 69), Thiago – Iniesta, Messi, Tello (Cesc Fabregas 81).
Madrid: Casillas – Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao – Khedira, Xabi Alonso – Di María (Granero 71), Özil (Callejon 87), Cristiano Ronaldo – Benzema (Higuain 90).
Referee: A Undiano Mallenco.
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