Good evening and welcome to the GMS coverage of the El Clasico derby.
Both will be looking to get their hands on the first Spanish silverware on offer in 2014, with Barcelona now just chasing the double after their Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid whilst Real Madrid are still fighting on all three fronts.
Cristiano Ronaldo is seen looking rather despondent in the stands as captains Xavi and Iker Casillas (making a rare performance, though he has been ever-present in Madrid's Copa campaign) shake hands.
Both teams make four changes from their last La Liga fixtures, a shock defeat to Granada for Barcelona and a 4-0 win for Real. Barcelona play the same team that lost to Atletico to crash out of the Champions League Quarter-Final for the first time in seven years.
But enough about the past, we are underway as the huge crowd at Valencia's Mestalla stadium are in full voice.
Real Madrid kicked off and gave away the ball very quickly. The tension was evident as very little happened in the first two minutes with both teams tentatively stroking the ball around. Both teams tried their hand at killer passes but both resulted in easy interceptions for the defences.
Not even three minutes gone and we had our first (and probably not last) yellow card of the match as Isco tripped Neymar. Surprisingly, there were no theatrical antics from the Brazilian. The free kick did not result in much and although Jordi Alba was brought down in the box (no dive) there was little contact and a goal kick results.
In the fifth minute came the first real chance of the night as Gareth Bale, not in the shadow of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and with a lot of pressure on his shoulder, streamed forward with Angel di Maria in support. On the edge of the area he chose to go it alone as he blasted it wide. The first five minutes have been relatively even but Bale's shot was the only moment of note.
Two minutes later and the €100m man was at it again with a sweet turn but his right-footed shot was blocked by the Barca defender and went out for a Real Madrid corner. Madrid were just starting to come into their own and putting some pressure on their Catalan rivals. Los Blancos were the first to shake off the pressure and try to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Barcelona finally got back possession and went forward with real menace but Iniesta went down looking for a foul and Real gained possession. Iniesta just lost it slightly as he fouled Carvajal unnecessarily.
As ten minutes approached Barcelona calmed the game down and started to stroke the ball around, moving forward with nearly every pass. However, Barcelona poorly gave the ball away and Real Madrid swept forward on the counter attack and GOAL. We have our first game of the match. Isco got the ball rolling and played it to Bale who played it first time out wide to Benzema on the left. The Frenchman stroked the ball first time back to the middle to Angel di Maria who ran forward into the box, taking a defender with him. At first it looked like he would cross to Bale who was in space but he went it alone and struck the ball with venom into the bottom corner. Replays show that di Maria looked offside in the build up. 1-0 Madrid.
In the twelfth minute Barcelona restarted and Madrid started applying real pressure, winning the ball very quickly. However, Madrid chose to stroke the ball around more and as Barcelona won back the ball the balance of possession returned with Barcelona forming an eventually futile attack. However, Barcelona are starting to string a large number of passes together with Madrid happy to sit back and chase the ball. Neymar finds himself on the right with enough space to cross but it seems to go too far. However, Iniesta gets to the ball and with a first time volley squares the ball but the Madrid defenders cut it out. Immediately Barca got the ball back and started stroking the ball around. Another cross came in but Pepe dealt with it easily.
Madrid started to invite Barcelona onto them, with everyone bar Benzema and on occasion Bale behind the ball. Barcelona can easily stroke the ball around in the final third but once they try to advance into the penalty area a wall of white shirts would meet them. Eventually Neymar is played into the area with his back to goal and he doesn't go down but theatrically demands a penalty to the referee. Real clear and there is some afters between the Brazilian and Coentrao as the Portuguese slightly provoked Neymar and the Brazilian appeared to stick his head in. The referee intervened and calmed proceedings down. 16 minutes gone and we've had a goal, a few chances, some diving and some handbags.
Then came Madrid's turn to have possession. They casually stroked the ball around their own half until a lovely exchange between Pepe and Benzema (including a delicious backheel from the striker) brought the Whites forward. Barcelona are pressing like mad so it takes some work for Bale to break towards the edge of the area with menace before passing to di Maria, who once again chooses to go it alone with a shot that is easily saved.
With twenty minutes gone Barcelona stroke the ball around. For a while Modric tries to press a bit but Madrid go back to sticking men behind the ball. They do not press until Barcelona reach the final third and that nearly costs them as Iniesta plays a through ball for Fabregas to cross but Neymar cannot reach it. After the goal Barcelona started to get a large chunk of the possession and Madrid had their midfield and defence set up excellently, causing there to be a hint of frustration in the midfield. Barcelona had their first big chance in the 23rd minute as Barcelona manage to get a cross past the first defender. It reaches Jordi Alba at the far post in some space but his header is straight at Casillas.
Barcelona could only get chances through crosses for the first half of the first half and Madrid's tactical setup proved too strong for Barcelona to create any chances through the middle. Xavi even resorted to a long shot which went flying over the bar, more than hinting at a bit of frustration for the Catalan midfield. Madrid throughout the first half hour were much more efficient in terms of creating chances when they got the ball, always looking to stream forward with pace. Between the twenty-fifth and thirtieth minute, having a large chunk of the ball and the Barcelona defence were required to stop a number of quick attacks from forming.
As thirty minutes came up Barcelona regained possession and stroked the ball around with much more intent than before. However, Madrid were more than happy to keep them out, any peppering of the area was stopped very quickly and as Barca tried to advance into the eighteen yard box Madrid would take the ball off them and clear. Barcelona just couldn't break them down and slowed down their passing again. Madrid's only possession started to become clearing the ball away and it seemed that Madrid were looking now for a smash-and-grab victory.
You could cut the atmosphere with a knife here. Neither section of the crowd has made much noise since the di Maria goal with the Barca fans wondering how their side would break Madrid down and the Real fans willing their team to hang on until half-time.
Finally Barca got into the penalty area, winning a corner. They took it quickly and Messi's poor shot from the edge of the are was easily saved by Casillas. Then Madrid streamed forward on the counter and created a real chance as a great cross from Bale caused Isco to put a shot in but Jordi Alba threw himself in front of it like Neymar would throw himself to the ground. 36 minutes gone. 1-0 Madrid still.
Barcelona regained possession and the same routine with Madrid shutting them out occurred. Barcelona managed to probe a bit but two very poor crosses meant Real could get away. They counter attacked forward with Benzema looking to cross to Bale but the ball couldn't quite reach the Welshman and Barca went away. Every time Madrid got the ball and tried to keep it Barca would press like mad to get it back. Real were having to keep up a very high intensity just to keep the ball.
Madrid had another chance to counter in the fortieth minute but Isco's attempted ball to Bale who would've had a real chance to score went too far past him. Barcelona took the ball back and started to press up the field with some passing but couldn't get near the Madrid penalty area as the defensive structure remained. Finally Barcelona got in the box again as Neymar controlled a cross and laid it back to Messi on the edge of the area, but the Argentinian's shot went wide.
Madrid started to play towards half-time, allowing Barcelona to keep the ball and happily staving them off their penalty area. When Madrid got the ball back they started to stroke the ball around and nearly allowed Barca to counter attack, but Pepe was up to the task of winning the ball back and Real started to stroke the ball around once more, although with more purpose about themselves than Barca. Javier Mascherano showed a sign of his frustration as he unnecessarily slid in on Karim Benzema, giving away a needless free kick.
Half-time. Barcelona 0 Madrid 1
Barcelona have been outdone tactically so far by Madrid, who went 1-0 up with a brilliant counter attack and a goal from Angel di Maria. Lionel Messi et al have been kept quiet so far and plenty of signs of frustration have been evident. The Catalans just cannot break Madrid down and an equaliser never seemed likely.
There has been a real fiestiness about this game so far with the referee constantly having to calm down or deal with complaining players. It's no more than you would expect from an El Clasico in that department, for sure.
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