Despite fielding a much-changed lineup, Real Madrid got the better of Barcelona for the second time in four days with a 2-1 victory at the Bernabeu.
With their Champions League second-leg to come in just three days time against Manchester United, Madrid manager Jose Mourinho elected to leave the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso on the bench. But that did not prevent the home side getting off to a flying start as Karim Benzema finished from close range. Lionel Messi soon grabbed Barcelona a deserved equalizer, but with the match seemingly fading out to a draw, Sergio Ramos stunned the visitors by heading home in the final 10 minutes.
With time expiring, Barcelona had a strong penalty appeal turned down and vigorous protests after the match ended led to Victor Valdes being shown a red card.
The defeat is unlikely to have any serious ramifications on Barcelona’s title aspirations as they still lie 13 points ahead of Madrid in La Liga, although Atletico Madrid will have the chance to close the gap to nine points. However, following on from their 3-1 defeat to Madrid in the second-leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal, it raises further questions over the direction in which Barcelona’s season is heading.
As for Madrid, Mourinho will be delighted that he got to rest players ahead of the trip to Old Trafford while also continuing their recent momentum and inflicting further misery on their great rivals.
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In a rare game under natural light between these two sides, it was Real Madrid that grabbed a surprise lead inside just six minutes.
Youngster Alvaro Morata, who scored on his first La Liga start two weeks ago, made another big impact on his second league start as he gained half a yard of space on Dani Alves down the left before putting a perfect ball in between goalkeeper and defender that invited Benzema to tap in at the far post.
But perhaps predictably given the relative strength of the two sides, it was Barcelona that seized control of the game and pushed forward with a constant array of short passing. In the 18th minute they got their reward.
Dani Alves supplied the fine through ball coming in from the right to find Messi just beating the offside trap and bursting into the area. With Sergio Ramos allowing too much space, Messi cut back onto his left foot and drove the ball low past Diego Lopez at his near post.
Both sides had chances to go in front before the break, but Messi shot straight at Lopez when well positioned, while Morata headed into the side netting.
After the break, Barcelona’s ascendency initially continued. David Villa appeared to be through on goal down the left to aid his chances of a regular starting berth but Raphael Varane continued his streak of fine performances against Barcelona with a wonderful sliding tackle just as Villa was pulling the trigger.
The introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo just before the hour mark gave Madrid a boost and the Portuguese forward soon went close with a trademark free-kick complete with ridiculous movement that had Victor Valdes worried before he did well to tip over the bar.
Madrid should have gone in front minutes later. Pepe was the surprising architect with a wonderful through ball with the outside of his foot that freed Morata down the inside left channel, but the 20-year-old couldn’t provide the incisive finish as Valdes stood firm and blocked his shot.
Barcelona were struggling to find any real impetus and they were punished with eight minutes left on the clock. From Luka Modric’s inviting corner, Ramos got up strongly at the near post and produced a stunning header that flashed into top corner of the net.
Barcelona still failed to provide a response and Madrid came close to extending their lead. Ronaldo’s 25-yard free-kick looked to be placed perfectly into the top corner but it struck flush on the cross bar with Valdes unmoved.
As the seconds ticked away in injury time, there was a familiar bout of Clasico controversy when Adriano went down under Ramos’ challenge in the box but the referee failed to give a penalty. Barcelona’s protests were understandable but they spilled over at the final whistle and Valdes was shown a red card.