A shocking second half collapse left Barcelona defeated at the Camp Nou, as the Catalans could not say farewell to Johan Cruyff the way a legend of his stature should’ve been honored. Gerard Pique opened the scoring with a header in the 56th minute, but a steep drop in play allowed Real Madrid not only to claw back with a Karim Benzema goal, but leave the Catalan capital with the three points, courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo late strike, in the process helping city rivals Atletico Madrid to inch closer to Barcelona in the standings.
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Neither manager was willing to risk anything in what Andres Iniesta called "the first final this season", both opting for what can be described as a "Gala XI". Luis Enrique was able to count on all of his starters, but was left without a couple of bench options. Claudio Bravo started in goal, with a back-four of Dani Alves, Pique, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba in front of him. The midfield trio consisted of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Iniesta while the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar also made an appearance.
Zinedine Zidane, in his first El Clasico as manager, countered with Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, Gareth Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo.
Barcelona started the Clasico in very promising fashion, quickly asserting their possession game, often pinning Real Madrid back, who were quite content sitting back and waiting for their chance on the counter - arguably their strongest weapon. But Barcelona's first golden scoring opportunity came from a long pass from deep in their own area. Neymar was sprung by the pass and he beautifully found Suarez alone in front of goal for what appeared to be an easy tap in, but the ball instead dribbled through the Uruguayan's legs and the chance went begging.
In the 14th minute, the entire Camp Nou gave a standing ovation in honor of Barcelona, Ajax and Netherlands legend, Johan Cruyff, who was also honored before the game with a moments of silence, terrific mosaic and tear-inducing video. Before the game, the Barcelona players were also very vocal about how a win against Real Madrid would be the perfect way to honor Cruyff, but despite creating chances Barcelona couldn't get one past Navas in the first half. It wasn't for lack of trying though, as in quick succession Iniesta and Rakitić both took shots, but the former's was blocked by the defender while the latter's was excellently saved by the Costa Rican.
Even though Barcelona spent more time in Real's half that vice versa, the Madrid club regardless countered with dangerous attacks, but Barcelona's defense did a good job to prevent the visitors from taking shots from dangerous positions. In fact, Real didn't take their first shot on target until the 25th minute when Ronaldo, after easily skipping past Alba, powered the ball on target, but the shot was right at Bravo who easily pushed the ball out of the danger area.
Just before Ronaldo's chance, Barcelona went on a three-on-three counter, with Messi, despite having options on both sides, taking the ball himself. On the very edge of the area he was clearly tripped up by Ramos for what would've been an excellent spot for a free kick and quite possibly a second bookable offense, but the referee surprisingly waved play on. Suarez and Mascherano went on to pick up quick yellow cards to even the score in that department as well, with Carvajal and Ramos earning theirs in the opening stages.
Barcelona continued to dominate ball possession, to the tune of 68% to 32% at halftime, but after leaving some holes in defense earlier in the game, Real Madrid's back-line tightened their ranks, not allowing Barcelona to test Navas for the remainder of the half. Alves came closest to putting one past the Costa Rican in the 42nd minute, producing a bullet from the right side but the shot went just over the crossbar. Quickly after Alves' shot, the visitors would create their last chance of the half, with the second of successive Carvajal crosses finding the wide open Benzema in the heart of area but the Frenchman's volley missed the target by some margin.
After one minute of added time, referee Alejandro José Hernández Hernández brought the first half to an end - a half that produced some good plays and a handful of scoring chances, highlighted by Suarez's early miss, but failed to delights millions of fans around the globe with a single goal.
Neither team made any changes during the break, meaning the half started in a similar way to the way the first one was played - with Barcelona enjoying the bulk of possession and Real Madrid waiting for a chance on the counter attack. Barcelona quickly started buzzing around the area, but getting shots on target remained a task that the Catalan's struggled to achieve, even from a Messi free kick. Real Madrid countered Barcelona's press with an excellent counter attack, but Pique and Alves were able to block consecutive shots.
Barcelona's pressure toward Navas mounted though and in the 54th minute it appeared Messi would break the deadlock with a placed shot from the edge, but Navas prevented celebrations with a panther-like save. But not even Navas could keep Barcelona from scoring two minutes later. After a series of dangerous corner kicks, the third time was the charm for the Catalans. The perfectly placed corner kick came from the right side and in the middle Pique escaped his marker, Pepe. Allowed a free header, Pique would make no mistake, powering the header past Navas for the lead.
But Barcelona's celebrations wouldn't last long as just six minutes later Real Madrid tied the game up. Marcelo led the attack and won acres of space unchallenged before laying the ball to the right to Kroos. The German quickly attempted a cross that deflected off of Alba just enough for the ball to fly over Pique into the waiting hands of Benzema. In top-striker fashion, the Frenchman showed excellent killer instincts, slotting the ball in with an overhead kick, leaving Bravo with no chance to make the save. The visitors would in the 68th minute attempt to take the lead but Bale's shot was stopped by Bravo.
The goal gave Real some new-found energy and Lucho quickly made a substitution to bring some freshness to his own team, taking off the not-fully-fit and yellow-carded Rakitić and replacing him with Arda Turan. But the substitution wouldn't have the desired effect. Zidane made his first change four minutes later, replacing goal-scorer Benzema with Jese Rodriguez.
As the game advanced to the later stages, Real Madrid found more and more space on the counter attack as Barcelona lost their midfield dominance that was so apparent in the first half. Barcelona looked increasingly disjointed and the visitors looked increasingly likelier to score. They appeared to do so in the 81st minute but Bale's headed goal was disallowed for a foul on Alba. The very next minute Ronaldo fired a shot off the crossbar and just moments later Bale was through on goal after an Alba mistake, but Bravo got just enough of the ball to prevent the goal.
In the 84th minute, after his umpteenth foul, Ramos was given marching orders as he was shown his second yellow card, extending his El Clasico lead in red cards. But despite being a man down, Real Madrid would not be denied a goal as Barcelona continued to find it impossible to take control of the ball and the game. Bale sent a perfect cross from the right side over the poorly positioned Alves onto the chest of Ronaldo. Presented with his best chance of the game the Portuguese forward made no mistake and sent the ball through the legs of the helpless Bravo to put the visitors in the lead.
Barcelona would attempt one last hurrah and would create a half-chance in the dying moments of added time, but Arda's low drive from inside the box was blocked by one of the El Clasico's unsung heroes, Casemiro, and Barcelona threw away the lead on "Johan Cruyff day" and were forced to endure an tough but deserved loss to their eternal rivals, ending their Spanish record run of 39 games unbeaten.
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