The first Clasico of the season ended in a 2-2 draw, as Barcelona shocked Real Madrid with a ruthless display of clinical finishing. Ozil ensured that Real took the lead, but Barcelona hit back with strikes from David Villa and Lionel Messi. Xabi Alonso tied the game at 2-2, but remember, this is only half-time, with the second leg to come on Wednesday.
Starting out with the same eleven that lost 5-0 to Barcelona in November, Madrid were out to prove a point. Pressing high up the pitch, slick passing, lightning counters, they started brilliantly. Benzema had a shot deflected in the first minute, and Di Maria hit the side netting in the fourth minute.
The high pressure was really disrupting the European Champions, as Abidal, Mascherano and company resorted to long balls, just to escape the pressure.
The first chance fell to Real Madrid, as a cross in from the left found Benzema unmarked, but his header was clawed of the line acrobatically by Victor Valdes. It was some save, but FC Barcelona were in an unfamiliar position.
Then came the breakthrough. Villa tried to backheel the ball to Messi, but Ramos blocked it, and off went Benzema down the line. Power and pace, he was toying with Abidal, before picking out the run of Ozil from deep, and Ozil slotted past Valdes. Not the best start by the Blaugrana.
Ronaldo tried to double the tally soon after, with a shot from distance, but perhaps he should have passed, as his shot was easily saved. Khedira was warned for a high foot, which scraped Abidal’s face, but this game was just getting started.
Messi dropped his shoulder, played a through ball to Villa, but the Spaniard was offside. Though that would not be the case in a few minutes time.
Again, Lionel Messi cut inside from the right, played a ball to Villa. David Villa followed suit, dropped a shoulder, and my word, unleashed the best shot you are likely to see this month. From a full 25 yards out, his shot arrowed into the top corner, as Casillas could not believe his eyes.
One shot, one goal, Barcelona were level.
Real Madrid were dropping the tempo, they could not keep the pressure going, and Barcelona were quick to capitalise. Keeping possession, and on the stroke of half-time, the Bernabeu was silenced. Pepe slipped, Messi got lucky with a bounce, and was through on goal.
There was only one outcome, as Casillas was soon picking the ball out the net for the second time of the night. No-one knew how, but this makeshift Barcelona side were ahead. Against the run of play, with only two shots, Mourinho must have been livid.
Behind at the break, Real resisted the urge to make substitutions, and Barcelona started brightly. Sanchez made a couple of jinking runs, and Thiago exhibited sublime close control, and it looked like Barcelona had their swagger back.
Alves was making last-ditch blocks on Ronaldo, and Barcelona were looking fairly comfortable, or at least as comfortable as you could be in a Clasico.
Until the 54th minute that is.
A corner went in, Barcelona failed to clear, and Pepe laid the ball off to Xabi Alonso, who drilled it first time into the bottom right-corner. The game was tied, and on reflection, deservedly so.
After this point, Madrid were again the better side. They were creating chances, keeping Barcelona at bay, and testing Valdes on numerous occasions. Though it must be said, they were not really threatening. The shots were tame, and often straight at Valdes. The only real trouble was a trademark Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick, but even that failed to hit the target.
The game was drawing to a close, but surely you didn’t think that was it? Valdes flapped at a free-kick, and Ronaldo was looking to pounce on the rebound. Until Valdes made a cheeky move with his left hand to trip him over. It looked a clear penalty, but the referee stood firm.
Thoguh, as any Clasico, Barcelona were not the only ones to get away with murder, as Pedro was felled inside the box by Marcelo. It also looked a stone-wall penalty, but the referee refused to point to the spot. Cue bemusement the world over.
There was still time for Pepe to nearly start a fight, but no more goals, and one must think that Barcelona will be delighted. Behind in preparation, missing key players, with Cesc Fabregas to come, this makeshift side held Real Madrid to a draw, at the Bernabeu.
The full strength Mourinho team threw the kitchen sink at Barcelona’s "defense", and they stood firm. Let that sink in.
Barcelona still had enough to draw with Real, without Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Fabregas, and with Messi lacking match fitness.
I for one am looking forward to the second leg on Wednesday, and I am feeling a sense of optimism. This Barcelona team should have enough to get the job done, despite the best efforts of Real.
My Man of the Match has to be Victor Valdes. A titan at the back, he made countless saves, and really shone, despite the absence of Puyol and Pique. Honourable mentions to Alves, who kept Ronaldo quiet, and Sanchez, who demonstrated a fantastic work rate in his debut.
On a sour note, the Bernabeu crowd let themselves down, AGAIN. As Alves was being booked, he was AGAIN subjected to monkey chants. This is vile, disgusting, and goes beyond football. Yet, Mourinho will not stop it, neither will he mention it. I implore UEFA to take action, but of course, they will not.
How can Racism be tolerated? It is only a minority, but they are ruining the game, bringing its reputation into the mud.
Aside from that, a good showing by the lads, and roll on Wednesday, and roll on the Camp Nou.
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