Saturday’s thrilling encounter atop La Liga provided the first act of a 3-part drama in Spain, Italy, and England’s top divisions. And at the time, I figured it was the most legitimate race in the three leagues. (Who had Man United drawing Everton 4-4 to give Man City control of their own destiny and the Premiership crown? The same know-it-alls that claim to have predicted Milan dropping points this morning before Juve thrashed Roma, no doubt).
Heading into the Clasico, Madrid had a 4-point lead in the standings, with 4 more subsequent matchdays on the calender. A Barca win, as most expected, would toss the two clubs right into the proverbial barbecue for a sensationally well done finish to the season (ugh, sorry). The Catalan’s 3-1 victory over their rivals in December justified expectations of a similar result. In case you live under a rock and missed it, or you know, have responsibilities and stuff, here’s how this one all went down (from my armchair).
Teamsheets announced. Cristian Tello starting for Barca. Are they showcasing him for a big money move, or do they actually have the audacity to, gulp, rest players for the Champions League Semifinals?! Pique, Sanchez, and Fabregas also find themselves on the bench. Surely they’re taking the mickey here?
Spare a thought for Pedro, who seems to be the invisible man. David Villa is practically a paraplegic and Pedro still can’t earn a start. Two years ago, this would be unthinkable.
Real, on the other hand, field what’s probably their strongest lineup. Higuain finds himself on the bench to accommodate Benzema’s red hot form. Would YOU drop this man?
Coentrao is my player to watch for the visitors. Struggled a little midweek in Munich, has to be said. I think he’ll be a good barometer here. If he can be unleashed, Real will win. If he’s pinned back with defensive duties, it will be all Barca.
Any residual effects for Barca from the Chelsea debacle? Let’s see!
It’s an early physical battle for both teams. Hope the ref is up for it.
Real on the front foot now; you get the sense they want an early “Mourinho lead.”
Pepe sloppily gives the ball away, and Casillas does well to pip Alves to a 1v1. Very nearly a breakthrough there.
Nice shot of Mourinho on the bench, arms crossed defiantly. He looks significantly older today. Life under the microscope has aged the Special One, it seems.
Benzema making Adriano look like Bambi on ice, but only musters a tame shot from the edge of the area. Could be a matchup to exploit for Madrid.
Benzema and Adriano
Tello’s offside but he didn’t know it as he glided around Arbeloa to work a nice effort.
GOAL KHEDIRA: 1-0 Madrid. Wow, that was ugly. Valdes does a 1920s flapper imitation as Pepe directs a corner goalbound. Valdes and Puyol unable to clear and Khedira somehow bumbles it home. 17th minute.
You’d prefer to see a prettier goal in such a marvelous encounter, but the German is celebrating like he’s done unbelievable tekkers.
Iniesta has been Barca’s best player so far. Messi’s been sharp, but quiet. Only a matter of time before he erupts…
Commentators describing Sami Khedira as a “former German Youth Captain.” Uh, anyone else a little uncomfortable with that description?
Barca’s faith in their width is inspiring. But still not paying dividends. Evenly contested but lively match nearly a third gone.
Xavi pulls a sitter wide! Messi brilliantly slipped Xavi through for a close range 1v1 with Casillas. But the (smaller) Spaniard perhaps waited too long to pull the trigger, before drawing the shot left.
Ozil has been strangely anonymous. Actually, I feel anonymous. I’ve been mesmerized by the methodical ticking and tocking of the last 5 minutes. Hypnotic stuff.
There are some (mildly) surprisingly impressive attributes on display. Things you know about, but always catch you off guard when you see them: Tello’s pace, Benzema’s strength, Messi’s left boot, Ronaldo’s change of direction… I just realized, I could list these all day.
Ozil works around the edge but his cut back is blocked.
HALF TIME. 1-0 Madrid.
Well, Barca do look spooked from the midweek defeat at Chelsea. Out of sorts to some degree.
2nd Half gets underway.
Immediately, Barcelona playing with purpose. Those 3 points, wanting them, needing them, taking them.
And then Ronaldo is almost through but the offside trap holds, barely.
Here’s an interesting tidbit. Both Messi and Ronaldo are level on 41 league goals. I’m not advocating for Ronaldo’s claim to be the best player in the world (and the assists stat concurs), but shouldn’t the conversation be at least less lopsided, for this season?
What’s Tello done?! His diagonal run was picked out by Thiago but the youngster sidefoots the ball a mile off target. Shameful stuff.
Can Barcelona diehards even tell the difference between Tello and Isaac Cuenca? I bet Ceunca could’ve thrown on Tello’s kit at the break and nobody would ever know. I expect Disney’s Spanish branch to send me a royalties check when they make that movie next year.
Nerves running rampant now. One hour in the books and I’m sensing another breakthrough. Way too many good attackers on the pitch.
Xavi just wide. Then subbed off. What the hell? Nobody is happy with Guardiola’s change, and you can count me as one of them. Ray Hudson is on the verge of tears.
GOAL SANCHEZ! 1-1.
In the 70th minute, Barcelona find their equalizer. Iniesta with a slick backheel to Tello, whose shot rebounds to the Chilean. Sanchez makes no mistake sending it home, but it’s just as ugly as Khedira’s bumbling goal. Like for like.
GOAL RONALDO! 2-1 Real Madrid!
Well, that didn’t last long. Just 3 minutes later Ozil plays a gorgeous long ball into Ronaldo’s path, and the Greasy One coolly finishes near post, beyond the hopes of the caveman Valdes.
This is Madrid’s game, surely. They must milk another 20 minutes of clock for a famous victory, and I have no doubt they will try.
My friend Cotter, who’s been watching with me, can sense it’s probably not going to be Barcelona’s day. He starts muttering anti-Franco comments, glumly.
Now Ronaldo’s rolling on the ground? In the deep? (Oh yeah, that’s why people take extreme pleasure extolling Messi as the unrivaled greatest).
Barca struggling to create meaningful opportunities. This like watching a dog walk on hind legs. Got to be another goal here somewhere!
Real milking with both hands.
Sorry I’m getting short. This is how these usually go. In squeaky bum time, I start losing myself in the contest. Here, I’ll throw you a bone.
FUN FACT OF THE DAY: Did you know Kaka still plays for Real Madrid? Okay, I’m kidding. 5 goals and 7 assists in La Liga is admirable. But when your club pays a billion dollars to get you, and can’t rely on you in THIS game, I get the right to make fun of you. Read your contract, Ricky.
We’re in injury time now. Barcelona keep passing, sticking to their principles even at the death. They came back from a deficit in their first clash with Real by playing their game, but it’s not to be tonight.
FULL TIME! 2-1 Madrid.
And now, Madrid go 7 points clear, with a Camino Real to the La Liga title. The power appears to be shifting in Spain’s big rivalry. Barca must lick their wounds, but cannot dwell on defeat. Otherwise, the Catalans will lose their 3rd consecutive match when Chelsea visit midweek, in the all important Champions League.
It’s another Clasico in the books. If you enjoyed this, feel free to look back on all my live commentary of World Cup 2010. Or…look…forward(?) to my coverage of EURO 2012.