Real Madrid defeated arch-rivals Barcelona 2-0 in a tough but mostly clean Clasico at the rainy, sold-out Bernabeu Stadium. The victory leap-frogged the merengues over the cules by a point and left the capital team with the tie-breaker (head-to-heads) should the two teams tie at the competition’s end.
Though Real coach, Zinedine Zidane, was still, yet, again, fielding a different line-up when plenty of starters occupied the bench, at least he made the right substitutions, albeit at the wrong time, and one actually paid off. Meanwhile, new Barca coach, Quique Setien, went with a pragmatic line-up, one he had used before, given his team’s similar injury woes. The cules played as if they were a cohesive unit looking for an important result, the merengues played as if their lives depended on this win.
Thus, the game was intense and saw both sides miss great opportunities. But as is always the case in these matches it was a matter of making the most of opportune moments—such as Barca did when Madrid ran out of steam at the 37th minute and the cules took over for the rest of the half.
Each half had moments of offensive and defensive brilliance and good overall play, and stretches of ragged play and cynical tackles, but they never reached the fever pitch of unsportsmanlike behavior we have often witnessed in these clashes.
What did flourish were some great plays, shots and saves and each goalkeeper was outstanding. So were a number of field players such as Nelson Semedo for Barca and Federico Valverde for the merengues. Each team was successful in nullifying the other’s major threats as Isco and Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann were mostly held to a couple of important plays a piece.
Marcelo and Raphael Varane joined forces to deny Messi a sure one-on-one inside the Real box without fouling the diminutive Argentine. Marcelo celebrated the brilliant stop as if he’d scored a goal. Ter Stegen flew nearly the length of the goal to tap an Isco curler away from the upper right ninety of Barca’s goal. And the tension grew for nearly 80% of the match, until release finally arrived.
But as it was with the Cules chances in the first half so it was when the momentum swung for the merengues, the hosts had to capitalize when they got the upper hand. Only this time they did make some luck for themselves. The Real chance came at the 71st minute when Toni Kroos pointed at Vinicius Jr. to “go long” down the left flank and then fed him a perfect through ball. The Brazilian took the pass in stride and then seemed intent on dribbling the ball into the net. But at the last moment, he was closed out by a charging Gerard Pique.
So, when the winger got ready to shoot, just as Andre ter Stegen came out to cut off the angle to the far post and stop the winger from running into the net with the ball, the Brazilian still shot to the far post. But Pique’s slide made contact and put the ball over the right shoulder of ter Stegen and into the net at the near post, for the opening score. Merengues 1, Cules 0.
As the game wound down, with but stoppage time to play, a long throw-in found recent substitute Mariano running down the right wing and he also seemed intent on running the ball into the net. But Samuel Umtiti reached him just in time to disrupt his shot, again just as ter Stegen got there and went down to block.
This time, when the winger shot, his feet slipped out from under him, and he hit the ball into the ground making it bounce up, over the arm and shoulder of ter Stegen and into the net at the 90+2 mark. Real Madrid 2—Barcelona 0.
At weekend’s conclusion Real Madrid was atop the La Liga table with 56 points, followed by Barcelona at 55, Sevilla at 46, and Getafe at 45. The round kept a number of surprises intact, such as the play of Getafe, and the downward spirals of Atleti, Valencia (at a -1 goal differential) and Levante.
On Friday, Real Sociedad beat visiting Real Valladolid 1-0. On Saturday, Eibar won 3-0 at home over Levante, Real Betis lost 2-1 away to Valencia, Leganes were held 1-1 at home by Alaves and Granada suffered the same frustration in a 0-0 home draw to Celta Vigo.
On Sunday, Sevilla defeated visiting Osasuna 3-2, Athletic Bilbao won at home 1-0 over Villarreal, Espanyol were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid, and Mallorca lost 0-1 to surprising, visiting Getafe.
The scorers’ table was unchanged with Barcelona’s Messi at 18 goals, followed by Real Madrid’s Benzema at 13 and the injured Barca striker, Luis Suarez, tied at third with Alaves’ Lucas Perez, at 11 goals each.