Real Madrid opened a decisive gap at the top of La Liga with a crucial 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
Goals from Sami Khedira and Cristiano Ronaldo either side of an Alexis Sanchez close range effort for the home team gave Jose Mourinho’s side a vital win and in all likelihood Madrid’s first title in four years, with seven points now separating them from Barcelona with just four games to play.
Billed as the showdown to decide this year’s league winners, Barcelona were aiming to reduce the gap at the top of La Liga to just a point having trailed their rivals by ten points little more than a month ago.
Just three days after their frustrations against Chelsea, Pep Guardiola’s side picked up where they left off at Stamford Bridge, enjoying much of the early possession but once more finding themselves unable to force a route to goal with a white wall of ten men in front of them at times.
Madrid, looking dangerous as ever on the counter-attack, had the first real chances of the game as Cristiano Ronaldo saw his powerful header tipped over the bar by Victor Valdes.
Barcelona looked flat at times and even sacrificed possession cheaply at times, a cardinal sin for the Catalan club, allowing Madrid to come forward at pace and pressurise the home side’s back four.
It was Madrid that unsurprisingly struck first after 17 minutes as Pepe rose to meet Angel di Maria’s header, which drew a save from Valdes, with the ball falling to Carles Puyol who dithered in front of his own goal to allow Khedira to prod home at silence the crowd.
Barca almost equalised immediately as Lionel Messi, who would endure one of his quietest games of the season, teed up Xavi Hernandez, however the Spanish international couldn’t beat Iker Casillas in the Madrid goal.
The first half followed a similar pattern, with Barcelona frustrated and unable to carve out a shot on target in the first 45.
They did come out stronger in the second half, but it was more frustration for Pep Guardiola as he saw Cristan Tello, somewhat surprisingly included ahead of Cesc Fabregas and Sanchez, blaze over their best chance of the game after being fed through.
With time running out Guardiola rolled the dice and bought Sanchez on, and almost immediately the Chilean international made an impact.
It wasn’t a classic Barca goal but it was desperately needed as the Nou Camp began to rock, with Sanchez eventually bundling the ball home after Tello’s drive was blocked.
The game immediately came to life, however it was Madrid who extinguished any hope the home side had of taking the title race down to the wire.
Another lighting quick counter caught Barca flat as Ronaldo burst through the middle to latch on to Mesut Ozil’s perfectly weighted ball, blasting past Valdes to consign Guardiola’s side to their first home defeat in 55 games and all but end the title race.