El Clasico. The biggest game in club football saw the biggest teams in the world, Barcelona and Real Madrid, battle it out at the Santiago Bernabeau Stadium last night. In recent years Barca have dominated, losing only one of the last 8 derbies, but the buzz ahead of last night’s match-up, was that Madrid were finally the favourites, keen on extended their 15-match winning streak, whilst Barca were trailing in the league and could’ve seen their season disappear into nothing with a loss. A great game was expected, and as viewers we weren’t let down…
22 seconds in, and Madrid actually took the lead! The usually reliable Victor Valdes messing up a clearance, and the resulting shot by Mesut Ozil, dropping to the feet of Karim Benzema, who from 6 yards out, was never going to miss. It was the fastest goal in El Clasico history, and understandably, Barcelona were rocked, and for a good 10 mintues or so, were unable to get into their usual classy passing game. Real were on top, and wasted a few chances through the disappointing Cristiano Ronaldo, who has yet to prove his worth in the big games, sure he scores hattricks against the likes of Osasuna, Real Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano, but when it comes to the Champions League knock-out and Barcelona, he never has produced. This is what will truly stop him from reaching the level of Lionel Messi, who consistently produces, no matter who the opponent is.
With Real dominating, the slick counter-attacking through winger Angel Di Maria, seemed to be their strongest point, as he breezed past the likes of Abidal and Iniesta, still clearly shell-shocked by the disastarous start. Di Maria impressed me with his skills and pace in the first half, but his play-acting, as with quite a few players from both sides in the game, was awful and needs to be kicked out of football ASAP! Alas, Madrid came to rue their wasteful chances, as the inevitable happened: Barca equalised. A delightful run and through-ball by the main man Messi, saw Alexis Sanchez net from the edge of the box, tucking the ball away into the bottom left-hand corner. It was a fine finish, but probably not the most deserved of goals at the time. From then on Barca pressed until the half-time whistle, but to no avail. Tempers were also fraying on both sides, as Messi and Sanchez were booked, Messi was close to being off for the first time in his career, whilst Madrid’s ‘dirty’ side was shining through once again.
Barca came roaring out the blocks from the second half, and were certainly the better team, Madrid having a couple of cheap free-kicks, both of which Ronaldo wasted yet again. The next goal turned the game undoubtedly in Barca’s favour, as Xavi hit a sweet volley, that cannoned off Real’s Marcelo and fooled keeper Iker Casillas, sneaking into the corner, just evading his grasp. It was lucky, for sure, but bittersweet for Barcelona, considering it was El Clasico after all! The ill discipline of Madrid was creeping out once again, as poor challenge after poor challenge rained down upon Iniesta and Messi, with Lassana Diarra and Pepe entering the book. These two, in addition to Sergio Ramos, were lucky to stay on the pitch, as fouls kept coming, in an attempt to break down Barca’s game. It really frustrated me whilst watching, as it ruins the enjoyment of the game. However, I thought the referee did well, as he was always consistent, hence the decision not to send Messi, or potentially Dani alves off for Barca, meaning that there was no real controversy.
Ronaldo had a chance to equalize, but missed a simple header, yet again something he will rue this morning, as Barca sprung up the pitch and scored within a couple of minutes to seal the game. Dani Alves, in a makeshift right-wing role whipping in a beautiful first time cross, and Cesc Fabregas showing Madrid’s number 7 how to header, with a lovely diving header from a few yards out. It was a hammer blow for Madrid, considering seconds earlier it could’ve been 2-2 and game on, although it was only fair as Barca dominated the second half, allowing their opponents no respite.
For the remainder of the game, Barca passed to their hearts content, showing much better possession than at any other moment of the game, and constantly threatening Casillas, choosing when next to torment the long-serving Madrid star. It was like a practice match as Madrid tried to threaten through subs Higuain and Kaka, but couldn’t find the finishing touch for even a consolation. The game had it’s traditional ‘brawl’, although it was only a little bit of petulance between the tired legs of Puyol the warrior and any Madrid player who dared to challenge him.
It’s clear to see that the gap between the two top clubs in Spain has been considerably shortened, but as Barca returned to the top of La Liga, Jose Mourinho may just have to accept that some things never change….