Recap: Real Madrid cut their gap to Barcelona at the top of La Liga to seven points after Cristiano Ronaldo struck a late winner at the Camp Nou, despite the visitors being down to 10 men. After Gerard Pique gave Barcelona the lead early in the second half, Real Madrid came back strongly and equalized through Karim Benzema’s acrobatic finish.
The momentum looked to have turned the home side’s way when Sergio Ramos was finally shown a second yellow card that really should have arrived early in the first half. But Real Madrid had the greater desire to go on and snatch the victory and did just that when Ronaldo chested down Bale’s cross and fired past Claudio Bravo with five minutes remaining.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had talked before the match after wanting to deliver a “final blow” to Real Madrid in the title race. But in what was their first match since the passing of club legend Johan Cruyff, his side conspicuously lacked that clinical mindset. Barcelona dominated early on and should have gone in front, particularly with Luis Suarez somehow missing a glorious chance from six yards out.
Real Madrid, who played a risky game with a high defensive line, benefited not only from Barcelona’s wastefulness, but from the referee’s apparent determination to keep Ramos on the pitch as long as possible. The defender should have been handed a second yellow when clearly taking Lionel Messi out right on the edge of the box after 24 minutes, but somehow survived. And he did so again in the second half when challenging Suarez from behind.
But Real Madrid did fall behind in the 56th minute when Pique powered home a header from a near-post corner. Still, Barcelona were far from at their best. And perhaps the effects of trips to South America for World Cup qualifying took its toll on Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez, with all three a long way from their brilliant peak.
Real Madrid must take some credit for that, though, and especially Casemiro, who made two crucial interventions in his own box and thwarted Barcelona on many more occasions simply through his positioning in front of the back four.
And, as Barcelona became increasingly lifeless after going in front, Madrid were able to get back into the game. Benzema, who was otherwise quiet, did superbly to volley home after a brilliant run from Marcelo. And, after Gareth Bale was unlucky to see a goal ruled out for a soft foul on Jordi Alba, Ronaldo grabbed the final word with a textbook chest down and finish.
With just seven games of the season remaining, the result is unlikely to make a real difference in the title race, although it will certainly pique the interest of Atletico Madrid, who are now just six points back and who await Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday.
FULL TIME: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid cut Barcelona's lead to seven points, but the bigger impact could be on their confidence heading into the rest of the season. Barcelona had the opportunities to put the game away, but took their foot completely off the gas after taking the lead through Gerard Pique. Credit to Real Madrid, who showed plenty of fighting spirit to equalize through Karim Benzema and then, after Sergio Ramos had been sent off, net a winner through Cristiano Ronaldo.
92 mins: A chance right at the last for an equalizer, but Suarez's effort is blocked by Casemiro. Not the first time the Brazilian has put his body on the line tonight.
91 mins: Bale heads off the pitch, to be replaced by Lucas Vazquez.
Ronaldo's goal to put Real Madrid in front:
GOAL! Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid (Ronaldo, 85)
With 10 men, Real Madrid go in front. Bale hung up a cross to the back post, Alves misjudged it, giving Ronaldo time to chest it down perfectly into his path and drill a shot low past Bravo at his near post.
83 mins: Ramos finally gets a second yellow card, and rightly so with a poor challenge from behind on Suarez. With his fourth challenge warranting a yellow card, Ramos at long last gets his second and he can finally get that shower he has seemingly been after.
82 mins: Zidane is in agony on the sidelines. Just after having a goal ruled out, Ronaldo pings a shot off the top of the crossbar with Bravo well beaten. And seconds later, Bale was put through but Bravo got just enough on the shot as it went through his legs.
80 mins: Bale and all of Real Madrid thought they had a winner, after the Welshman headed home a cross at the back post. But the referee decides Bale was climbing on the back of Alba and rules it out. That looked a very harsh decision.
78 mins: Real Madrid make their first switch, taking off the goalscorer Karim Benzema and replacing him with Jese Rodriguez.
75 mins: Suarez again showing perhaps he's not at his sharpest tonight. He had a sniff to get in behind the Real Madrid defense, but Pepe was allowed to get a foot in.
74 mins: Arda Turan becomes the first player to enter off the bench for either team. The Turkish playmaker, who arrived from Atletico Madrid last summer, replaces Ivan Rakitic.
70 mins: Suarez takes a swing at a volley from Messi's knockdown, but Casemiro gets in another good block to deflect the ball to safety.
69 mins: An opening for Real Madrid to go in front. Bale is teed up on the edge of the box, but his side-foot effort lacked venom and Bravo held on down low.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid (Benzema, 62)
An equalizer out of nowhere for Real Madrid. Barcelona looked to be comfortable, but Marcelo's fine run across the edge of the box opened up space before he picked out Toni Kroos on the right. The German's cross was deflected and behind Benzema in the middle, but the French striker atoned for his miss in the first half with a delightful acrobatic volley.
Video of Pique's goal:
GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid (Pique, 56)
Barcelona have been pushing for a goal at the start of the second half and it finally comes, of all ways, from a corner. Gerard Pique surged ahead of Pepe at the near post and bludgeoned the ball down into the net with his forehead. The Barcelona defender was in no mind to be denied his goal. What have Real Madrid got now?
54 mins: Almost a wondrous goal from Messi. He digs out a delightful chip toward the far corner of the Real Madrid net, but Navas flings himself across his goal and somehow gets enough of his fingertips on the ball to turn it wide. Great effort and great save.
51 mins: This is getting laughable now. Sergio Ramos has just swung his arm into the face of Dani Alves at a corner, but the referee doesn't give anything and Ramos continues to live on with a single yellow card.
51 mins: Barcelona are probing on the edge of the box, but Real Madrid, and particularly Casemiro, did a good job of snuffing out the danger. Neymar was prevented from shooting and his pass then couldn't be taken in by Messi in the box.
47 mins: Ramos somehow survives an early trip back to the dressing room once again. An incredible decision from the referee not to produce a second yellow card after he cynically brought down Suarez from behind. That's twice now Ramos should have been sent off.
Second Half Kickoff! Real Madrid get the Clasico back underway at the Camp Nou.
Here's a look at Suarez's miss:
HALFTIME: Barcelona 0-0 Real Madrid
Barcelona dominated much of the half and really should be in front, particularly with Suarez having missed an absolute sitter from six yards out. Barcelona's front three, and particularly Suarez, haven't looked as sharp as usual, though, after their World Cup qualifying exertions in South America. Having survived the early dangers, Real Madrid have grown into the game and had a great chance of their own shortly before the interval, which Benzema haplessly squandered.
45+1 mins: Rakitic shoots well wide from distance in what's likely to be the last action of the first half.
43 mins: There's a huge chance for Real Madrid. A cross drops for Benzema in space 15 yards from goal, but he gets his strike all wrong and it goes way over the bar. That's a chance you really expect Benzema to take advantage of.
42 mins: Dani Alves arrives onto a cross from Neymar that drops to the top corner of the box, but he blasts it high over Navas' crossbar.
40 mins: It's not often you see Ronaldo tracking a full-back into his own penalty area, but he does this time and wins a free-kick in a battle for the ball with Jordi Alba. Real Madrid's wide men have been far more defensively disciplined in this match than we've come to see.
38 mins: Casemiro has been wounded in a clash of knees with Messi. The Brazilian is clearly in come discomfort but is trying to shake it off.
34 mins: Real Madrid have been at their most vulnerable so far when they've had possession and moving up the field. Repeatedly it's given Barcelona the chance to break with their front three. Luis Enrique will be frustrated that his side haven't made the opportunities count so far.
31 mins: Real Madrid win a free-kick just over 30 yards out after a tackle from Javier Mascherano on Bale, but Ronaldo strikes it over the bar. Not nearly enough dip on that to threaten Bravo.
27 mins: Suarez gets booked after catching Pepe in the face with a stray arm. That could be an interesting battle now for the rest of the contest. Meanwhile, that yellow card means Suarez will miss Barcelona's next match.
25 mins: At the other end, Real Madrid have their best attack thus far. First, Ronaldo calls Claudio Bravo into action with a shot straight down the middle of the goal and then Bale fired wide.
24 mins: Surely a penalty to Barcelona! Real Madrid are left three-on-three at the back with Messi driving toward the box. He takes the ball past Sergio Ramos and then goes down after being clipped by the Real Madrid defender but amazingly no penalty was forthcoming. Replays show that Messi was clearly fouled, although the contact was a fraction outside the box. And having already been booked, Ramos should surely have been off for that.
22 mins: Barcelona knock at the Real Madrid door once again, this time Neymar curling high over the bar. Real Madrid have been reduced to very occasional moments of possession and trying to spring Bale in behind.
20 mins: Barcelona go close to the opening goal once again. Ivan Rakitic this time gets a left-footed shot away, but Keylor Navas gets down well to parry the ball to safety. The Costa Rican has come up big for Real Madrid so often this season.
18 mins: Dani Carvajal has just become the first player booked after taking out two Barcelona players, first Suarez and then Iniesta with two rash challenges. The atmosphere is heating up, but it's still Barcelona dominating.
13 mins: Interesting tactical note so far is where Messi is spending most of his time. As he did last season against Real Madrid, the Argentine is operating primarily in the No. 10 playmaking role, behind Neymar and Suarez. In fact, it's almost a diamond in midfield, with Rakitic on the right, Iniesta on the left and Busquets in the holding role.
10 mins: Incredible miss by Suarez! Neymar gets in behind down the right and squares for a wide open Suarez who somehow misses the ball.
7 mins: Seven minutes in and I'm not sure if Real Madrid have string two passes together yet. It has been all Barcelona so far.
4 mins: Suarez flagged for offside again, but replays show he was on. Real Madrid's high line has already been threatened on three occasions in the opening minutes. It's a dangerous tactic against Barcelona's deadly attacking trident.
2 min: Almost a chance early on for Suarez to break in behind the Real Madrid defense, but the whistle had already gone/ Meanwhile, Pepe has gone down after a stuff challenge from Sergio Busquets. The defender looks to be able to continue.
KICKOFF! And the Clasico is underway!
2:30 p.m. EDT: And now a moment of silence for Cruyff, who did so much to influence where Barcelona are today. Unfortunately the silence ruined by some disgraceful shouts from some in the crowd.
2:28 p.m. EDT: The players are out of the tunnel at the Camp Nou as the whole stadium unites to hold placards aloft forming a giant tribute to the legendary Johan Cruyff. A special moment ahead of a special game.
2 p.m. EDT: No surprises in either of the two starting lineups. Barcelona are at full strength, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar linking up in attack despite their exertions on international duty. Zinedine Zidane, meanwhile, doesn’t go the same way as his predecessor Rafael Benitez in the first Clasico of the season, opting to select Casemiro in a more solid midfield.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) April 2, 2016
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 2, 2016
Preview: Real Madrid will get a final chance to turn what looks set to be a title procession for Barcelona into something approaching a race when visiting the Camp Nou on Saturday. Barcelona sit nine points clear of Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga, with Real Madrid a further point adrift going into the final eight games of the season.
While landing the title would still be a distant proposition even with a victory for Real Madrid, the contest is key for Zinedine Zidane as he takes charge for his first Clásico. Although results have been largely positive since he took the reins in January, they lost their only big challenge when going down to neighbors Atlético. And the former France great still has much to do in order to convince that he is the long-term solution for the 10-time European champions.
A repeat of the outcome when the sides last met certainly wouldn’t do his cause any favors. In the first Clásico of the season, last November, Barcelona inflicted an emphatic and painful 4-0 drubbing on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, doing much to lead to Rafael Benitez’s dismissal just a few weeks later.
For Barcelona, meanwhile, the match is an opportunity for a fourth league double over their fierce rivals in the last eight seasons. And coach Luis Enrique has also stated that it will be a chance for his side to deliver a “final blow” to Real Madrid’s title chances and make it just a two horse race.
Already the biggest club game on the planet, Saturday’s Clásico is sure to have an even more special atmosphere than usual after the recent passing of Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff. Enrique is out for a victory in the style that Cruyff would have been proud of. And has stressed that he is not concerned by his prolific forward trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar having only returned to the club on Thursday after competing in World Cup qualifiers in South America.
Check back here from 2:30 p.m. EDT from live score updates and video highlights from El Clásico.