MADRID: Real Madrid prepared perfectly for their Champions League return against Manchester United after inflicting a second defeat in five days on Liga leaders Barcelona by 2-1.

Lionel Messi equalled Alfredo Di Stefano’s record of 18 ‘Clasico’ goals with an 18th-minute equaliser after Karim Benzema had opened up for Madrid in the sixth minute.

Barcelona, beaten at home and 4-2 on aggregate in the cup semi-finals by Madrid in midweek, lost again after conceding a headed goal to Sergio Ramos from a Luka Modric corner in the 82nd minute.

Madrid won even though coach Jose Mourinho left key players including top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and midfielders Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil out of his starting lineup.

Barcelona were furious when their penalty appeals for an apparent Ramos foul on Adriano were waved away in the dying seconds and goalkeeper Victor Valdes was shown a yellow card and then a red for berating the referee after the final whistle.

Ramos said later: “After two consecutive ‘Clasico’ victories we are going to Manchester convinced we can get through but without being disrespectful to United.”

Messi’s goal was his 50th of the season in all competitions and he has now scored in a record 16th consecutive Liga appearances, taking his tally to 39 for the season, and also netted his 18th goal in his 25th appearance against Real, equalling former Madrid great Di Stefano’s record set in the 1950s and 60s.

Ronaldo came off the bench with half an hour left and hit a post with a free kick.

Barca have 68 points from 26 matches, with Atletico on 56 and Madrid on 55 points, 13 ahead of Malaga.

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