Real Madrid’s trip to Barcelona on Saturday evening was the year’s first El Clásico, and it certainly provided plenty of drama: delicious goals, controversial refereeing decisions, and a few physical battles from the Spanish rivals. But in the end it was Barcelona that came out on top, giving themselves a six-point cushion over Madrid.
Barcelona were certainly dominant in the first half. The hosts controlled the match right from the start, despite a little heated physicality that saw both sides awarded yellow cards before the 15th minute. But Barcelona’s composure paid off in the 19th minute, when Neymar opened the scoring in his first El Clásico. The majority of the magic came from Andrés Iniesta, however, who had a fabulous game. It was he who got the ball up through the area, drawing in the Madrid defense as Neymar took up a position on the edge of the area. A perfectly threaded past set up the Brazilian, whose low shot flew past Diego Lopéz to settle at the far post.
Just a minute later, Lionel Messi very nearly doubled Barcelona’s lead. But the Argentine’s shot went just wide, settling on the wrong side of the far post (or, perhaps, the right side, if you’re a Madridista).
Despite Barcelona being on top for much of the first 45, Real Madrid very nearly snagged an equalizer just before the whistle. Cristiano Ronaldo sent an absolutely delicious cross into the area, with a sliding Sami Khedira able to get a touch. But Victor Valdés was right there to prevent the ball from slipping into goal. Real Madrid players surrounded the referee, appealing for a handball, but none was given. The replay showed that, although Javier Mascherano did make contact, it was the ball that rolled on to his hand, not the other way around.
Whatever Carlo Ancelotti said in the Camp Nou dressing room seemed to have some affect on the visitors, who looked much more lively after the restart. Luka Modric took greater control in the area, picking out passes and finding his teammates in space. It was his ball that set up Ronaldo in the 58th minute, but Valdés managed a terrific one-armed save. Seconds later, Angel di Maria forced the Barcelona keeper into another great rescue.
In the 71st minute, the visitors had a legitimate penalty call waved away. Javier Mascherano slammed into Ronaldo, putting his shoulder into the Madrid man’s back. Ronaldo went down but the referee failed to bat an eye. Just after, Karim Benzema, on for Gareth Bale at the hour mark, managed to get his shot on target. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the ball smashed against the crossbar and landed on the wrong side of the goaline.
After all the hard work put in by Madrid, it was almost sad when Barcelona doubled their lead — or, it would’ve been sad, had the goal not been so spectacular. Alexis Sánchez, who’d replaced Cesc Fábregas less than ten minutes before, practically did all the dirty work himself. A through ball from Neymar set him free, but it was Alexis that went left, then right, to shake off Raphael Varane. Once he’d rid himself of the defender, the Chilean chipped the ball over the head of Diego Lopéz and into the back of the net.
Real Madrid did manage to pull one back in the dying minutes of the match. The young Jesé, on in place of the unimpressive Angel di Maria, got on the end of a lovely ball from Ronaldo. He sent the shot straight at Valdés, who managed to fumble it completely, with the ball going through the goalkeeper to end up in the back of the net. In the end, though, it was nothing but a consolation for los galacticos.
Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Song 77); Messi, Fábregas (Sánchez 70), Neymar (Pedro 84)
Subs not used: Puyol, Montoya, Pinto, Roberto
Goals: Neymar 19′, Sánchez 78′
Real Madrid: Diego López; Carvajal, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Ramos (Illarramendi 56), Khedira, Modric; Bale (Benzema 61), Di María (Jesé 76) Ronaldo
Subs not used: Coentrão, Casillas, Isco, Arbeloa
Goals: Jesé 90′