Real Madrid continues Clasico control, downs Barcelona

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Real Madrid made seven changes from the Copa del Rey team that won Tuesday at the Nou Camp, yet they still knocked off Barcelona 2-1 today at the Bernabeu. They are now undefeated in their last five Clasicos with Barça having beaten the Merengues only once in the team’s last eight meetings.

As lopsided as this rivalry was in Jan 2012 when Barcelona had only lost once in 13 derbies, Real Madrid has flipped the script. The Blaugrana may be the best team in Spain, but their the worst team in this rivalry.

Karim Benzema, one of José Mourinho’s seven changes, opened the scoring in the eighth minute, though Lionel Messi responded 12 minutes later.  Over the next hour, Barcelona controlled the ball while Real Madrid dominated the chances. Barcelona’s 72 percent possession created only two shots on goal. Real Madrid, however, put five shots on Victor Valdés and outshot Barcelona 14-5.

When Sergio Ramos rose above Gerard Piqué to head home a late Luka Modric corner, El Real had the win they deserved.

(MORE: Clasico not free of controversy)

Ahead of Tuesday’s game at Manchester United, Real has slowly become a team that can match their reputation. As they proved on Tuesday, Real are capable of going on the road and regaining any advantages lost at home. Whereas once it looked like Manchester United was a good bet to move into the Champions League quarters, now Real Madrid seem like the better, more talented, and hotter team going into Old Trafford. Two straight wins over Barcelona testify to that.

As for Barça, today’s result, their Champions League stumble, and their Copa exit mean the team’s lost three of their last four. They’ve given up the first goal in five straight matches and haven’t kept a clean sheet since Jan. 10.

Whereas once it seemed the improved health of Carles Puyol and Piqué would solidify their defense, Barcelona hasregressed. Worse, they seem to have no answers for teams like Real and Milan – sides willing to side deep, let Barça play their ideologically-driven games, and wait to pounce. With Pep Guardiola gone and Tito Vilanova out, it’s unclear they have guidance to lead them out of this rut.

This is as wayward as we’ve seen Barcelona since the days of Frank Rijkaard. And unfortunately, they don’t have the kind of diversity in their squad they’ll need to shake things up.

Even if they play better, it’s unclear they’ll get more out of this season than Spain’s title. For almost every team in the world, that’s a huge season, but for a Barça side that’s known for months they’ll win La Liga, this season looks set to end in disappointment.