This edition of El Clásico was dramatic and incredible to a wildly entertaining degree, with Barcelona coming back from a late equalizer from 10-man Real Madrid to stun their hosts at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A last-second winner from Lionel Messi was his second goal in the biggest of moments, in a massive 3-2 win that will change the La Liga title race.
The match started cagily but still with the frenetic energy that so often accompanies El Clásico, with Barcelona trying to settle into a new tactical shape given some of the injuries and suspensions they’re dealing with — most notably Neymar — and Real Madrid not wanting them to have the time or comfort to find their groove. Madrid definitely had the better of the early chances, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen was putting in a strong showing in goal for Barcelona despite the defense in front of him lacking their usual calm, including stonewalling a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo that the Portuguese star is much more used to scoring from.
That lack of defensive calm cost Barcelona in a bad way, though, with three Madrid players getting free right in front of ter Stegen on a set piece just before the half-hour mark thanks to a bad breakdown in Barcelona’s marking scheme. Sergio Ramos was the first man on the ball, but his shot banged off the post and ter Stegen couldn’t get back in time to stop the rebound shot from an also-unmarked Casemiro at the far post.
Ter Stegen wasn’t the only Barcelona player upset at that turn of events, though, as Lionel Messi was already angered by having been left bleeding after eating a high elbow from Marcelo during a challenge for a header. That sparked the Argentine megastar into a higher level of play, the kind that sees him slalom through defenses on his own to score goals — just like he did five minutes after Real Madrid’s opener to level the scoreline for Barcelona.
The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth affair, with ter Stegen coming up big again for Barcelona and a cagey defense for Real Madrid just barely keeping their rivals at bay. The second half was much the same, but played at an even more frenetic level. Barcelona continued to lean heavily on ter Stegen to stop shots, and he responded magnificently, though Keylor Navas also came up big on what looked like a sure goal for Barcelona, stopping a Messi shot cold to keep the score even.
Barcelona were certainly getting their chances, but on a whole it generally felt like Real Madrid were the team more in control of the match, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos creating tons of scoring chances for their team and doing a lot of work both on and off the ball. But Madrid struggled badly to convert that control into goals, a problem most typified when Marco Asensio and Cristiano Ronaldo broke clear on a counter attack, only for Ronaldo to send his shot sky-high despite having a clear chance at goal in the 67th minute.
That lack of precision cost Madrid dearly just six minutes later, because Ivan Rakitic popped up with an absolutely world-class goal to give Barcelona a 2-1 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu, and that goal left Madrid bitter and frustrated.
That frustration was embodied by their captain, Sergio Ramos, who was lucky not to break Messi’s leg four minutes later with a hard and late tackle that saw him earn an easy red card from the referee.
But Real Madrid weren’t done, despite the dire straits they found themselves in. Marcelo served up a divine ball to James Rodriguez, who got through Barcelona’s defense unmarked, for a huge equalizer despite being down to ten men.
It looked like Real Madrid were going to salvage that 2-2 draw — but a stoppage time stunner from Messi saw Barcelona scrape out a 3-2 win that will have huge title race implications in La Liga.
The result brings Barcelona level with Real Madrid in the standings, and they hold every key tiebreaker over their rivals. Madrid still have a game in hand, but if Barcelona can keep up the kind of form and quality that saw them win this match, there’s little reason not to think that they can stay in the driver’s seat — the pressure is all on Real Madrid right now.
Source: Conor Dowley/ sbnation