Barcelona seal the top-spot with a dramatic win over eternal rivals Real Madrid.
The second el Clasico of the season was an eventful one as in-form Barcelona took on visitors from the capital in a top of the table clash. Only one point was separating these two sides at the start of the game and both sides were bombing for a win as very little remains now in this season.
Luis Enrique’s men were starting without the key defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets while the influential Sergio Ramos returned for the Galacticos.
The game began with the home side giving an impressive show in front of the local fans in a jam-packed Camp Nou. Suarez lobbed the ball over the defense and setup Iniesta with a clear run into the box. Iniesta cutback a pass into the centre of the field but got injured in the process as he twisted his ankle. Suarez made a disappointing effort on goal as he shot way over. Also notable was a bicycle kick attempt by Pique early into the game.
Minutes later Ronaldo came close to delivering a heart-attack for the most loyalest of Barcelona supporters as his close-range volley hit the crossbar and got deflected. Ronaldo did exceptionally well to make room for himself to fire on the goal as he left Jordi Alba just guessing in the 6 yard box.
The Clasico that it was several individual battles were on display, significant one at the start being the tussles between Suarez and Pepe.
But the fear of any such disappointment was soon eradicated as Mathieu scored his first Liga goal for Barcelona by heading home a Messi free kick in the 19th minute.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid 22-3-2015 Highlights HD English
Real Madrid however, after conceding the goal became increasingly aggressive upfront and were looking highly adamant on restoring parity in the intense Liga clash. From Isco to Modric, Bale to Benzema, Marcelo to Ronaldo everyone was looking increasingly hungry and determined to get a goal back. Barcelona was just running rampant around and the difference in technical abilities of the Madrid front and the Barcelona defense was very transparent.
Barcelona was nailed to the back foot for the first time in Liga this season and was struggling to get the ball beyond the half way line. Ronaldo amidst the constant negative cheers from the home fans was performing exceptionally well as if he was being fuelled by them. There was moment when he came storming through Barcelona shirts and had almost created a one-onone for himself with his run had he not been tripped at the edge of the box by Pique. The only realistic attack from Barcelona was when Neymar came at the end of a passing move but his poor touch on the ball resulted into the ball going straight into the gloves of Casillas. And the first goal for the visitors was always coming. Modric sent a through ball into the right channel for Benzema to cleverly lay it off for Ronaldo who was charging down in front of the goal mouth. Ronaldo was in a clear one-on-one with Bravo and he didn’t fall to rustle the back of the net with his finish. Madrid was in full control, they were back into the game, the momentum was on its side and it had exposed the flaws in Barcelona with its speed of play.
Mascherano made a drama out of an unintentional clash of legs between him and Ronaldo and ended up getting himself booked for the act.
Till the end of the first half Madrid were continually trying to punish Barcelona with their versatile attack. Bale almost doubled the goal tally for his side as he slid the ball past Bravo but fortunately for the home fans, Ronaldo who laid a headed assist for Bale was just offside. Ronaldo delivered a vicious strike just before the end of the first half which was fingered over the goal by Bravo.
Barcelona was seemingly waiting for the referee to blow for half time as they were desperately looking for a chance to patiently rethink their tactics. The second half began with a refreshed Barcelona side which looked confident on the ball from the start of the second forty-five. The intensity of Madrid had slightly subsided probably because the home side was now moving the ball around well. But all of a sudden, Dani Alves opted for a more direct approach and he delivered a direct long ball straight into the feet of Suarez who controlled the ball brilliantly despite of the hassles from Ramos and slotted the ball into the bottom far corner of the goal. Not even Enrique saw this goal coming as this goal was a perfect example of opportunism. Suarez was at the right place and at the right time and he scored what would probably be the most important goal of this season for Barcelona.
The second goal had somewhat frustrated the away side and now they were again chasing the game, but they could not replicate the same kind of intensity which they were extravagantly showing in the first half.
Enrique opted for a more defensive minded Barcelona side by bringing on Busquets for Rakitic. Busquets was warmly welcomed by the home supporters and Barcelona now had two midfielders Mascherano and Busquets in a holding role. Soon Xavi was brought on for Iniesta who seemed to have a poor day today.
Carlo Ancelloti brought on Rafael Varane in place of Pepe probably because Pepe was on the verge of receiving a second yellow.
As Madrid went to the front foot to attack they had left plenty of space at the back for Barcelona front men to exploit. Jordi Alba tore apart the entire Madrid side with his run and quick exchanges and he came face-to-face against Casillas but his shot was poorly struck and Madrid was fortunate enough to remain only a goal behind. Neymar dazzled the field with impressive skill and mesmerizing runs but his selfish approach in front of the goal denied Barcelona chance to extend the lead. There was an instance when Neymar took on several Madrid players and came in front of the Madrid last man, Ramos but instead of passing the ball to Suarez who was in a better position he decided to shoot from outside the box and his shot disappointingly sailed over the bar. There was another instance when Messi came with a penetrating run from the center and he had two clear options of Suarez and Neymar in front of him, he chose Neymar and Neymar shot way wide. It was quite a debatable matter whether it would have been better if the Argentine would have opted for Suarez to take a shot as he was in a central position as opposed to Neymar who was more to the right.
Neymar was brought off and Rafinha was brought on to add more compactness in the midfield and Barcelona converted into a 4-4-2 from a 4-3-3.
In the final ten minutes of the game Madrid were seeming to have accepted defeat as Barcelona had grasped full control of the game through threatening attacks and controlled possession. The home side finished the game duly by passing the ball around much to the delight of the home fans.
It was an enthralling el Clasico at the Camp Nou and with ten games left in the Liga, Barcelona seem comfortably perched at the top of the table with a four goal advantage over their eternal rivals.
With the Copa del Rey finale awaiting and a Champions League quarter-final tie against PSG it can be said that hopes of a treble are very much alive.
REFEREE: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
Bravo; Alba, Pique, Mathieu, Dani Alves; Mascherano, Iniesta (Xavi 80’), Rakitic (Busquets 76’); Messi, Suarez, Neymar (Rafinha 85’)
Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe (Varane 73’), Ramos, Marcelo (Lucas Silva 88’); Modric, Isco (Jese 80’), Kroos; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale
Alba 37’ (Yellow)
Dani Alves 71’ (Yellow)
Iniesta 65’ (Yellow)
Suarez 28’ (Yellow)
Pepe 21’ (Yellow)
Ramos 45’ (Yellow)
Carvajal 48’ (Yellow)
Isco 64’ (Yellow)
Modric 52’ (Yellow)
Ronaldo 37’ (Yellow)