That time has come around again where the most popular match in the Football calendar was being held at the historic Bernabeu stadium. Yes the match they call ‘El Clasico’ saw two of the Worlds biggest teams locking horns once again as both Real Madrid and Barcelona were chasing their next La Liga title.
Personally I have a soft spot for Real Madrid for a number of reasons due to both my personal and business life. I placed a self imposed ban from my club Cardiff City as I was dead against the owners changing their home colours from Blue to Red so I struggled to get my football fix. At the same time my marriage was on the verge of collapse so just to get away from my in-house problems I found myself constantly jumping on a plane to Madrid to watch fellow Welshman Gareth Bale take on the World’s best. Apologies for digressing!
Going into the game Madrid sit second, two points behind Barca after a poor run in February. From their last five matches in all competitions Zinedine Zidane’s side recorded just one victory to their name, with a defeat to Levante last time out in the league. Barca on the other hand are leading the way in La Liga, but not all of their fans are happy at how the club is being run. In fact there were protests against president Josep Maria Bartomeu prior to a 5-0 home win against Eibar last weekend.
Zidane made just two changes to his team with Modric making way for Kroos in midfield while Marcelo came in for Mendy at left-back. Barcelona coach Setien also made two alterations from the side which drew with Napoli in midweek. Firpo dropped out with Alba returning from injury, while Arthur replaced Rakitic also meant a landmark appearance for Messi, who become the first Barca player to play in 43 Clasico fixtures, overtaking his former team-mate Xavi.
The first 10 minutes was a cagey affair as both teams seemed understandably mindful of not conceding early on as in past encounters between these two teams an early goal can led to that team going on to score 4 or 5.
Strangely enough it took eleven minutes for the first booking to arrive as the yellow card come out against Vinicius, who fouled Semedo. It actually was the first foul of the game so it was no surprise that the Real Madrid youngster felt hard done by.
The first real chance come in the 16th minute as Benzema worked hard to force Ter Stegen into an error, as the goalkeeper only managed to pick out a white shirt with a poor clearance. Marcelo then slid it down the left to Vinicius, who cut it back to Kross. However, the German international couldn’t keep his shot down as the ball sailed over.
Five minutes later there was a huge opportunity for Barca. Messi slipped a neat pass out to Alba, who timed his run to perfection and drilled in a cutback towards the waiting Griezmann. The goal was gaping but the former Atletico Madrid star also sent his effort way over the bar.
In the 27th minute as Benzema was just inches away from ending his poor run of scoring form against Barca. Valverde got down the right and curled in a wonderful cross, but Benzema was just caught short of latching onto it and tucking home.
The game really was beinging to be end-to-end stuff by this point and seven minutes later Barca lunched another strong attack which forced Real keeper Courtois to make a huge stop. Arthur got the better of Kroos and suddenly found himself one-on-one with the Belgian. The Brazilian midfielder attempted to lob a chip into the right-hand corner, but Courtois stood firm to make a superb stop.
Courtois had to be alert again with another massive save just minutes later as he reacted brilliantly to deny Messi. Barca’s number 10 looked set to go through one-on-one, Varane had got across quickly to close off the space and force a snapshot.
As the first half drew to a close it was Barca who were controlling proceedings but Madrid were standing firm on the edge of their box and crowding out the visitors as soon as they encroached into the final third.
The second half took a while to generate any openings by either team. However in the 56th minute it was the turn of Barca’s keeper to make a great save. His team switched off defensively from a corner and Isco was given far too much space. He wasted no time in curling a strike towards the top-right hand corner, and only a magnificent stop from Teg Stegen prevented Barca from failing behind.
As the second half went on it was the home team who went up a gear. In the 62nd minute this time it was Pique who came to the rescue. Isco’s header evaded Ter Stegen, but the centre-back was on the line behind his goalkeeper and made the block.
A couple of minutes later yet another chance fell for Los Blancos. Ter Stegen played a dreadful pass into midfield, with Carvajal reacting sharply to intercept. He then chipped a cross over to Benzema at the far post, but he couldn’t keep his volley down.
Finally, we had a breakthrough as Vinicius put Madrid ahead. Kroos was given time to pick a pass into Vinicius, who drove into the box to get a shot off, with Pique lunging across, it deflected beyond Ter Stegen and into the net. It was great vision by Kroos, but the credit has to go to Vinicius as he was impressive and well deserving of that goal.
As the game was approaching the final ten minutes, Madrid were playing with supreme confidence but the away team helping them by consistently conceding possession in sloppy fashion as they attempted to play the ball around the midfield area.
In the 83rd minute a rare chance fell for Barca as Messi whipped in a brilliant free-kick from the left flank. Pique got on the end of it but, despite being unmarked from six yards out, he headed if wide of Madrid’s goal.
The following minute Madrid and Vinicus could have got a second as he charged through one-on-one with Ter Stegen, but the Barca goalkeeper rushed out to make a fantastic stop.
Barca were getting desperate now and rash defending from the visitors was coming into play as the game was coming to an end.
To waste some time at the end Zidane brought Benzema off for Mariano and in injury time the youngster had a remarkable introduction who, with his first touches, got the better of Umtiti, sprinted into the area and, from a tight angle, managed to scruff a finish in over Ter Stegan. The superb Carvajal got the assist, having lofted a pass over Umtiti and into Mariano’s path, as the striker was wiping away his tears during his celebration.
As the referee blew the final whistle it was Real Madrid who took the bragging rights thanks to a superb second-half display. Barca’s players look despondent by they deserved nothing at all from the game. The victory ended a run of four straight home defeats in Clasico fixtures in the league, sending Los Blancos top of the league and a point above their rivals.