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El Clasico: FC Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid: Match Review

A brace each for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ensured that the first league Clasico of the season ended in a 2-2 draw.

Jasper Juinen - Getty Images

FC Barcelona walked away from the first La Liga Clasico of the season with a point on Sunday night as Lionel Messi’s brace was cancelled out by two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid took the lead on 23 minutes, exploiting the Blaugrana’s makeshift backline to find Ronaldo open on the left-hand side of the penalty area, and the Portuguese forward did exceptionally well to score at Victor Valdés’ near post. Lionel Messi equalised with a real poacher’s effort just eight minutes later and he even put Barca ahead just after the hour mark with a beautifully-struck free-kick. However, Barcelona only held the lead for five minutes as Ronaldo equalised on the 66th minute after beating the offside trap. Barcelona did have chances to win the game, as Martin Montoya’s long-range effort rebounded off the cross-bar, but on reflection, a draw was probably the fairest result. Tito Vilanova’s 100% league record may have come to an end, but Barca remain unbeaten and eight points ahead of Los Blancos headed into the international break.


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El Clasico: The World’s Greatest Football Match. Even before the match, you knew it was going to be special. Tito Vilanova opted for what could have been a three-man backline. Maybe it was the usual four-man backline? Whatever the case, there was no Alex Song, no Gerard Piqué, but three full-backs, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets. Both Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta started with Xavi Hernández; Pedro started in attack with Lionel Messi; it was a crazy line-up, but you know what? Sometimes it’s the crazy ideas that work the best!

It turned out that Adriano was starting as a makeshift centre-half alongside El Jefecito, with Alves and Alba on either flank. Sergio Busquets was providing the backline with some protection, and aside from that, it was as expected from the Blaugrana. They started well, pressing every single Real Madrid player, regardless of their position on the field and going forward, they were looking to out-number Jose Mourinho’s side.

Real Madrid on the other hand were looking to do what they do best: soak up pressure and hit on the counter-attack. In their first couple of attacks, it was evident that they were going to create chances, but they were also having difficulty getting into the Barcelona half. The pressure was unrelenting for the most part, and it ensured that Barcelona arguably had the better of the opening exchanges.

However, the first half-chance of the game fell to Real Madrid, and just like Wednesday night, it was Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo who were combining to good effect. The cross came from the right-hand side and Ronaldo – who had switched sides after losing possession to Pedro and Alves on the opposite flank. Benzema was waiting at the far post, and worryingly for Barcelona, he had found a lot of space, but he couldn’t capitalise on that space and sliced his volley well wide of the target.

The first chance of the match also fell to the visitors, and unsurprisingly, it came from a set piece. Sami Khedira’s blocked cross won the corner, and the delivery was excellent. Hit hard with a little swerve, it was begging to be headed on target, but Sergio Ramos – who rose magnificently to win the aerial battle – couldn’t direct his effort on goal. Andrés Iniesta came closest for the Blaugrana at the other end, curling a long-shot just over the bar, but Real Madrid were beginning to exert their dominance on the makeshift Barca backline and took the lead just minutes later.

To their credit, it was a well-worked goal, but Barcelona could and should have done much better. Real worked the ball along their front-line well, and Karim Benzema’s turn was excellent, but from there on in, I can count two individual errors. Cristiano Ronaldo must be incredibly difficult to contain, but just like he did for Sevilla’s opener one week ago, Dani Alves gave Ronaldo time and space to get his shot away. When he did, he hit it as you would expect Ronaldo to strike a ball: with lots of power. Directing his shot at the near post, Ronaldo found the back of the net to give Los Blancos the lead, but I couldn’t help but feel Valdés should have done better.

Madrid could have doubled their lead moments after the restart as Karim Benzema saw his shot hit the post after excellent work from Sami Khedira (who was playing superbly in the middle of the park), but fortunately for the home side, Madrid’s season-long struggle with profligate finishing reared its ugly head once again. Benzema after all should have scored the rebound, though in reality, he scooped that chance over the bar. Boy would he live to regret that miss, as Barcelona equalised on the 29th minute.

However, before they could level the scores, they were dealt a blow (if you can really call it that given Alves’ recent poor form) as Dani Alves left the field with what appeared to be a muscle injury. Martin Montoya took his place in defense, and immediately Barca looked a better side. He may not have played a part in the equaliser, but his defensive work was sound and that allowed Barcelona to attack with a little more fluidity. Just like with the first goal, there was a defensive mistake in the play, but hey, we needed help anywhere we could get it. Intelligent play saw the Madrid defense stretched to its limits with Iniesta playing a good pass out wide-right to Pedro. Marcelo was slow to get across, and as a result, Pedro had time to deliver a cross, which deflected high into the air. Pepe over-committed in an attempt to head the ball clear, and Lionel Messi (who else?) pounced on that mistake, slotting the ball past Iker Casillas to tie the scores at 1-1.

Both sides went forward in search of their second, but neither created any clear-cut chances in the remainder of the half. In truth, Real Madrid should have been ahead at the break; would they be made to regret those missed chances by the final whistle?

The second half started with a bang as Lionel Messi reminded everyone of his presence with a typically mazy run past a couple of Madrid defenders even if the chance didn’t amount to anything. At the other end, Mesut Ozil had a penalty appeal turned down which was quickly followed by a penalty appeal from the home side, which was also turned down. Both sides had started the half a little nervously – almost as if they knew what would happen if they made a mistake.

We were roughly 15 minutes in the half, and Real Madrid "blinked first". Xabi Alonso tried to dispossess Messi in full-flight, but misjudged his tackle and brought the little man down. Barcelona had a free-kick right of centre, roughly 30 yards from the Real Madrid goal. Xavi and Messi stood over the ball, but you knew there was only one man likely to take that free-kick. Maybe the Madrid wall was encroaching; it didn’t matter. Positioning the ball a couple of inches further back, this was Messi’s time to shine. Up stepped the three-time Ballon D’Or winner and what followed was pure genius: striking the ball perfectly, Messi curled his shot past the despairing Iker Casillas to put Barcelona ahead. "Cometh the hour, cometh the man", Messi was dragging his team through this game, but unfortunately for him there was a certain Portuguese forward playing for the opposing side...

Barcelona were ahead for all of five minutes before Cristiano Ronaldo struck again, this time to tie the teams at 2-2. Once again, it was excellent work from Ronaldo as he lost his marker with ease and he made no mistake with the finish either, calmly dispatching his shot past Valdés. With just over half an hour left to play, the two teams were tied, and it remained that way heading into the final quarter of an hour. Barcelona had left it late against Sevilla, they left it late against Spartak Moscow; hell they had been leaving it late all season, why would the Clasico be an exception? They were gradually growing into the game as Madrid dropped deeper and deeper to try and keep the Blaugrana at bay. Would either side be able to manufacture a late winner?

Barca looked to have wasted their best chance to grab that winner when Lionel Messi over-hit his pass to Pedro on the counter-attack, but they got another chance minutes later – and we nearly had an unlikely hero. The build-up was intricate, contrasted by the long-range shot from Martin Montoya which crashed off the crossbar. Montoya’s face said it all – it was a cracking effort, but he couldn’t quite believe how tight the margins are in a match like this. A few inches lower, and he would have been reeling away in celebration. Similarly, Pedro could have grabbed the winner with the final kick of the match breaking away from the Madrid defense to make space for a shot, but he couldn’t find the corner with his left-footed effort. A deserved point for the Blaugrana which ensured the gap remained at eight points heading into the international break. Next up is tricky trip to the Riazor where Barcelona face-off against Deportivo La Coruna. Visca el Barca!

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