Barcelona 1:2 Real Madrid
Real Madrid took a decisive lead in the Spanish title race this evening and silenced the 99,000 of the Camp Nou with a 2-1 victory over Barcelona.
Cristiano Ronaldo eclipsed Lionel Messi by scoring the winner in the 72nd minute, which leaves Barça seven points adrift with only four matches to play. Messi, author of 63 goals in all competitions this season, could not add to his tally, while Ronaldo has now edged ahead of him in league goals, 42 to 41.
Real deserved their win for a more spirited and energetic approach than their hosts, who looked a little jaded after 58 games and a midweek defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League. The F.C. Barcelona who have dazzled the world with their mesmeric short-passing and high-intensity pressing looked a little low on petrol at home tonight against their perennially-closest rivals, serving up the same subdued performance as they did at Stamford Bridge.
Rumours that Pep Guardiola has now prioritized Europe after the midweek reverse were bolstered by a starting line-up missing Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. Mentally, Jose Mourinho and Madrid now have the upper hand at this crucial stage of the season.
The writing was on the wall when Real took the lead in the 17th minute, Sami Khedira bundling in the loose ball after Carlos Puyol dithered clearing an Angel di Maria corner. The home side enjoyed a whopping 78% of the ball in the first half but found Real dogged and determined at the back and willing to reply fast on the counter.
With just over twenty minutes to go, Alexis Sanchez replaced an out-of-sorts Xavi and the Chilean wasted little time in equalising in almost a photocopy of Real's scrappy opener. But two minutes was all it took for Real to regain the advantage and muffle the rejuvenated Catalan crowd.
Mesut Ozil played an inviting diagonal ball and Cristiano Ronaldo hurtled down the middle leaving Javier Mascherano in his wake before touching the ball wide of Valdes with his first touch before whipping the ball into the net from a tight angle.
Chasing the game at home with the minutes ticking away placed the blaugrana in unfamiliar territory. Hurried balls into the channels were mopped up by a Real defence who were clearly hungrier for the win and growing in confidence, while leaving two at the back almost led to a third goal for the white shirts, from Karim Benzema.
So the Spanish title looks like it is heading to the capital, with a seven-point chasm now having opened up with so few games remaining. But the two could meet again in the final of the Champions League. Barça also have the smaller consolation of the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final against Athletic Bilbao on the 25th of May.
Form favours Mourinho's men and in their last meeting in a cup final, Real beat Barça in the Copa del Rey last season, courtesy of a winner from Cristiano Ronaldo again.
Tonight was Guardiola's second defeat against Real since taking the helm at the Camp Nou in 2008 and with back to back losses, for the first time in ages the invincible blaugrana look beatable and must recover their confidence fast.
Barcelona: Valdés, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano (Pedro 74'), Busquets, Xavi (Sanchez 69'), Thiago, Iniesta, Messi, Tello (Fabregas 81').
Real Madrid: Casillas, Pepe, Ramos, Khedira, Ronaldo, Benzema (Higuain 93') , Özil (Callejon 89'), Xabi Alonso, Coentrão, Arbeloa, Di María (Granero 74')
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile