Barcelona came into this match four points behind Real Madrid, but thanks to Lionel Messi's heroics, that lead has been slimmed down to just one point. Barcelona had to suffer, trailing at two points in the match, but in the end, they pulled the big win out of their seemingly endless bag of tricks over 10-man Real Madrid.
Anything but three points for FC Barcelona would have dealt a serious blow to their title chances. A loss all but would have eliminated them, opening up a 7 point gap. A draw, while better, was not what the Blaugrana were aiming for. Thanks to key men such as Messi and Andres Iniesta, Barcelona have taken a big step towards retaining the Liga title.
Real Madrid CF
Shots on Target
Tata Martino played five natural midfielders, including Javier Mascherano and Cesc Fabregas, with Neymar as the only "true" winger. Carlo Ancelotti went 4-3-3 as expected, this time forgoing any "clever" experiments involving dropping Karim Benzema or moving Sergio Ramos to midfield.
Both teams got into quick attacks, with Neymar taking a relative tame effort on goal which was saved by Diego Lopez. Gerard Pique gave away possession dangerously close to his own goal, which he then recovered, but Madrid's press got into position to steal the ball from Andres Iniesta. Benzema was presented with a great chance but his shot was not only weak, but off target.
On two occasions, Cristiano Ronaldo went down in the box over slight contact, but the referee. Undiano Mallenco, was not interested.
After a flying start, it was no surprise that it took only 7 minutes to open the scoring.
Iniesta rewarded Gerardo Martino's confidence in putting him in the forward line with a brilliantly taken goal. In a role reversal, it was Lionel Messi who set him up with a great through ball. Iniesta was presented with a good shooting chance and his bullet was all but unsaveable.
After the euphoria, Barcelona looked a bit more sloppy than usual against such a quality opponent, and they allowed Real Madrid on top in the flow of the game. Angel Di Maria gave his first warning, crafting a great opportunity by dribbling past three or four players before teeing up Benzema. But the Frenchman was unable to replicate Iniesta's great finish, slamming the ball far over the bar.
Having had a moment to breathe, Barcelona remained calm and almost scored a second. This time the provider was Fabregas, who found a great run from Messi but this time - amazingly - the Argentine skewed his shot far to the left post.
Barcelona had a penalty appeal turned down as Pepe's challenge tumbled Neymar over in the box. It was a 50-50 call, but Mallenco did not see it Barcelona's way.
Barca had yet another chance as Messi yet again was the orchestrator. He slipped in Neymar, who took a shot that was stopped somewhat fortutiously by a Marcelo sliding tackle.
It all went slightly to pieces there for Barcelona, as Di Maria put in a cross from the left flank which was headed in by Benzema to tie it up. Almost instantaneously, it was Di Maria again who put in yet another cross from the left which Benzema again smashed in, this time on the half volley. In just a mere five minutes, Barca's good work had been undone completely. It was the 24th minute and Real Madrid were winning. Could they hold on?
A few minutes later, AGAIN Di Maria snapped a cross from the left which AGAIN found Benzema which AGAIN flew by Victor Valdes. only this time Gerard Pique was on hand to make a crucial goal-line block.
Barcelona were shellshocked, and, though they did at least slow the flow of Di Maria's chances, weren't creating clear-cut chances themselves anymore.
With Barcelona not having much clarity, it was their best player who forced the issue. First, he tried to play in Neymar, but when the ball was poked away from the Brazilian, it was Messi who pounced on the rebound, just beating Sergio Ramos to the ball, before angling a dart into the net. Messi's amazing night continued as he could count one assist and one goal to his name, with the scores level 2-2 in the 42nd minute.
Real Madrid would have one last chance before the half. This time it was Dani Carvajal who was able to find space for a cross. The ball found who else but Benzema, who took his chance at sneaking the ball into the far post with a clever header... but the ball drifted inches wide instead of finding the net once again.
Despite an uneven game to say the least, Barcelona headed into the dressing room with the score level at 2-2.
The second half started comparatively quietly. Would it set the tone for the rest of the match?
Real Madrid were the first to create after the restart. Gareth Bale, who up to this point had been pretty quiet, burst in on a counter attack and found Benzema (who may have been offside). Benzema was eager to get his hat trick, but this time Valdes was quick to deny him.
Then came the most controversial moment of the match so far. Daniel Alves was called for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo, though the replay showed the foul was outside the box. Ronaldo took the penalty and he put Madrid back on top again,
Regardless of the referee's error, Barcelona were now faced with having to score two goals in just over half an hour. Here was their Liga season flashing before their eyes.
Benzema almost assisted what would have been something of a killer blow, only for Valdes to deny Gareth Bale's one-on-one chance.
Barca needed to react. Their next close chance was Iniesta again, who took a cleared corner on the volley from outside the box. Unfortunately for El Ilusionista, the ball flew just over Lopez's bar. Barcelona needed a spark.
Again, Messi was the man called into action. Neymar latched on to a pass on the ground from Messi, and as the #11 turned to face Lopez, Ramos clipped him from behind. Mallenco pointed to the spot again and sent off Ramos for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
This penalty, too, would be controversial. And the sending off is a point of argument, too. But just as before Barca had to carry on despite their protests, Real Madrid too, had to carry on.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Messi slammed the ball into the back of the net from the spot. It was 3-3 and with a man advantage, would Barcelona snatch the match, and their league season, from the jaws of defeat? How would Martino use the additional man?
Tata took out Neymar, who had a patchy game, and put in the energetic Pedro. Would this be the key?
After all the careful considerate passes, Daniel Alves took matters into his own hands. Or should I say, his own boot. From outside the box, he thunderbolted a shot aimed at Lopez's far post. Unfortunately for Alves, he aimed too well - the ball bounced off that post and Real Madrid were saved.
Martino kept moving his pieces, this time taking off Fabregas and putting on another forward in Alexis Sanchez.
Say what you want about Mallenco, but he was certainly not afraid of making the big calls. The referee called the third penalty of the match after Xabi Alonso committed an unnecessary and rash foul on Iniesta in the box. This call was less controversial than the past two, though I'm sure it will be sports talk show fodder for weeks to come as well.
Would Messi do it yet again?
Yes, of course, why would you doubt him!? Messi put the ball past Diego Lopez again, getting his hat trick, his 20th goal in Clasicos (an all-time record), and his 236th goal in La Liga (surpassing Real Madrid legend Hugo Sanchez as the player with the second-most goals in La Liga all-time.)
With just six minutes plus added time to play, would Barcelona hold onto the lead in this seven-goal thriller?
The answer was yes, and in truth Real Madrid never had a clear chance again. Arguably Barcelona were closer to extending their lead than Real were to drawing the scores level, as a Dani Alves cross was just out of Messi's reach.
Once the dust settled, a wonderful match went Barcelona's way. It was an exhilarating match-up between two great teams, although some will undoubtedly focus on the referee, because it's a Clasico and that seems to always happen. Now, to see where this crazy season takes us.
|Roll Call Info|
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