The biggest domestic football game of them all. Real Madrid vs Barcelona. White vs Blue and Red, Ronaldo vs Messi, Madrid vs Catalonia. The Whites with a chance to regain their place at the top of the table; the Blues and Reds with a chance to move within a point of Atletico and Real at the top of the table.
The first two minutes are surprisingly calm. The Clasico has a long history of frantic games and it is expected that this will be no different. Neither team quite able to make something happen in the final third. Finally, in the third minutes Cristiano Ronaldo, the World Player of the Year no less, makes a dazzling run down the left flank and cuts inside. He goes down around the area but nothing doing. Barcelona counter attack but Neymar, having been put through brilliantly by Lionel Messi, has an unconvincing shot is easily saved.
Shortly afterwards Ronaldo looks to get onto a cross from the right but he realises the ball is going past and he gets contact from Dani Alves and goes down looking for a penalty. Nothing doing once more. Despite all the beautiful football the two teams are capable of playing, silly diving mars the encounters between them.
A hectic atmosphere is being built up and neither side looks able to calm down. A feisty affair looks likely to ensue when in the seventh minute Barca move up the pitch and GOAL. Messi sees Andres Iniesta coming up to his left with plenty of space and slips through a gorgeous ball for Iniesta to expertly control and smash past Diego Lopez. In off the bar.
More play outside of the two final thirds ensues. The tension is high and the teams are neutralising each other. Barcelona are desperately keeping Ronaldo and his stepovers at bay by putting two men on him at all times defensively.
Real Madrid have a real sense of purpose about that game and Karim Benzema misses two big chances. One is a long shot that he doesn't get enough of and it's easily saved. Then Angel di Maria crosses for the Frenchman who is on his own in the box with just the goalkeeper to beat but he fluffs his line and blasts a first time shot over the bar. Barcelona have a touch of recklessness about them and must take care of their lead.
It seems Real have missed their chance to take advantage of Barca's irresponsibility as in the sixteenth minute the Catalan swagger returns and Messi is put through on goal. A far too heavy ball (almost as hard as a shot) is controlled sensationally by the Argentine but he puts his shot miles wide.
The game rebuilds and no more real chances are created until Neymar takes advantage of some lacklustre Real Madrid defending to put himself through on goal. However he is brilliantly tackled just outside the box and Real Madrid get the ball back. In the eighteenth minute where Ronaldo winds up for one of his trademark curving long shots which dithers in the air, but he can't quite get the power behind it after Victor Valdes lets it bounce in front of him and has an easy catch.
Then Neymar puts himself in an excellent position to score once more but his shot, verging on a pass it is so weak, is easily saved. Real Madrid look to attack once more.
Goal time. Real Madrid move forward and Di Maria, who saw a ground cross missed by Benzema, bends an aerial cross from much deeper out which Benzema heads in brilliantly.
Valdes does very well to get a hand to it but the header is simply too powerful for it to be stopped. 1-1. The standard of this game is incredible. What an advert for football the world over. A far cry from the Aston Villa vs Stoke game I watched earlier.
Then Di Maria, who had gone down supposedly injured in the midst of the goal celebrations, crosses for Benzema who controls the ball well with his chest and fires the ball into the back of the net. These two goals in quick succession could kill off Barcelona in this match and who knows, maybe for the rest of the season.
Barcelona win a free-kick in a good range for Messi to shoot but he blasts the ball straight into the wall. Despite his very bright start, the no.10 is struggling to stamp his authority on the game.
Once again Di Maria crosses the ball into the Barcelona area. This time he chips it over a cluster of players to find, you guessed it, Benzema. His hat-trick will have to wait as his shot is blocked on the line by Gerard Pique.
This end-to-end football is making my fingers hurt. Soon after Real Madrid win a free-kick in perfect Ronaldo range, but he smacks the ball straight into the wall. Some Real Madrid players appeal for handball but Luka Modric is concentrating on the game and blasts a shot over the bar.
In the 30th minute Barcelona win another free kick 30-yards out and Xavi and Messi stand over it menacingly. However Xavi blasts it into the wall. Madrid move up the other end of the pitch and Gareth Bale is unable to control a poor ball from Ronaldo.
A goal kick, despite Bale's best efforts to win a free kick, is awarded. The world's most expensive player hasn't made a mark on the game yet. It would seem that Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo and Bale have taken a backseat to Iniesta, Benzema and Di Maria so far.
The end-to-end football continues as Jordi Alba and Ronaldo try to create something for their respective sides. However, both the defences come out on top. The weaknesses of both sides' defensive organisation has come under scrutiny tonight. The feistiness of tonight has been lacking but at last! A yellow card! Di Maria gets one for a trip on Neymar. This may be the longest a Clasico has gone without a yellow card.
Barcelona start to pin Real back and pepper the ball around their area. Alba wins the first corner of the game in the 40th minute but not much comes from it. In the 41st minute GOAL! Messi, as mentioned earlier not playing too much of a part in the game, picks up Neymar's pass and slots home. With that goal he overtakes Di Stefano in the all-time list of goals in the Clasico.
Now we have our first real trouble of this match. There seems to be a little tussle between Cesc Fabregas and Pepe and a bit of "handbags" ensues with players who had nothing to do with anything going down holding their faces and a lot of finger pointing. Eventually the two original offenders are booked. 43 minutes gone. 2-2.
The final noteworthy moment of the half comes in the form of a huge Real Madrid chance. Benzema (no, really) heads the ball narrowly wide. His chance for an incredible first half hat-trick is missed as the whistle is blown for the break.
This game has been very open and nobody's been able to really grab the game by the scruff of the neck for the whole 45 minutes. For Real it's been all about Di Maria and Benzema, who have combined to devastating effect throughout. Barca are perhaps lucky to be level, but for a few missed chances they would be down comfortably. Messi's miss to make it 2-0 early on has hurt Barca.
Back underway. Barcelona should be desperate to win as a draw leaves them four points off the pace and a loss seven points off with only nine games to play.
For the first five minutes Barcelona haven't been dominant but have seen the vast majority of the play. They certainly have dominated possession but Madrid are more than happy to sit deep and defend. Their manager is Italian after all. It seems Madrid will be looking to use Di Maria, Benzema and their now "others" such as Bale and Ronaldo to counter attack. Don't bet against the two formers regaining the main roles in the near future.
51 minutes gone and still no efforts from either team. Barcelona continue to stroke the ball around but Madrid up the ante and start to press. In the end Bale picks up the ball near the halfway line and explodes into life with an incredible run past two or three defenders. He beautifully slots in Benzema for yet another chance to get his hat trick but his finish is incredibly saved by Valdes. I do not jest when I say Benzema could have had six or more by now.
Controversy arises. Ronaldo is clearly fouled but it seems that the contact was outside the area. A penalty is awarded and the Madrid players surround the referee demanding Alves be sent off. However, the ref keeps a hold of the game and no more action is taken. Ronaldo tucks the ball away and it is 3-2. Not long after Bale has a big chance to kill the game as a delicious back-heel from Benzema puts him through on goal but his shot is saved by Valdes. Corner to Madrid.
The corner is cleared by Barcelona and they move up to the other end to win one themselves. The ball is scrambled away by Madrid but only as far as Iniesta, who blasts a shot over the bar. In the 61st minute yet more controversy as Messi plays a great through ball to Neymar (was he offside?) who moves across Sergio Ramos looking for contact and goes down.
A penalty is awarded and Ramos is sent off. On further inspection it didn't look like there was any contact and even if there was it didn't seem like enough to send Neymar down. The final replay comes up and there was the tiniest bit of contact, but the controversial side of El Clasico has reared its ugly head. This play acting may have ruined one of the greatest matches you are ever likely to see. Messi takes a brilliant penalty and scores. 65 minutes gone. 3-3. Can Real Madrid hold on? Ancelotti makes a bid to as he takes off brace-scoring Benzema, much to the striker's dismay and replaces him with Raphael Varane.
In the 68th minute, seven minutes after Pedro was seen warming up looking to take over from Neymar, the Spaniard replaces the Brazilian. In that time Neymar managed to turn the game on its head. Barcelona, as you would expect, are dominant with their man advantage but Real are holding firm and no convincing chances have been made. 72 minutes gone and Barca earn a corner but Sergio Busquets heads the ball over the bar. Real fight on valiantly. The mood of this game has changed dramatically since Sergio Ramos's third Clasico red card.
Two minutes later and Barcelona narrowly miss out on taking the lead. Alves receives a pass and with the Real backline blocking any real dangerous pass Alves whips in a glorious shot from the edge of the area but the post denies a perfectly hit shot. The look of relief on Ancelotti's face is verging on the comic. Alves is being allowed far too much space on the right and Pepe is called on to block a cross.
Ronaldo is playing up front on his own now and will be desperate for some counter attacks to form. With 79 minutes on the clock Real get the chance to break free but a cynical foul from Javier Mascherano cuts that short. Fabregas is replaced by Alexis Sanchez. 11 minutes to go and the Chilean receives a few words of encouragement before getting his chance to make history.
Real are being pushed further and further back by their rivals and are starting to tire. They need to relieve some pressure by getting out of their own half. Barcelona are stroking the ball around, peppering the penalty area. They'll be looking to pass Madrid to death.
Yet more controversy. The third penalty of the game. Iniesta runs into the penalty area and looks to cut inside. There is clearly contact but Iniesta theatrically throws himself to the ground and the referee points to the spot. The Madrid players surround the referee, incredulous.
Once again the ugly side of El Clasico comes about and the Madrid have every right to feel hard done by. What was one of the greatest, most even matches you'll see or year has been spoiled by two Messi penalties. Messi gets his hat trick. 84 minutes gone, 4-3 Barcelona. They move within one point of both Madrid teams.
Some fans will be celebrating in Madrid; Atletico cut Madrid's lead by three points with their 2-0 win at Real Betis earlier today and it looks like the one point deficit will stay, unless Madrid can make something happen in the last five minutes. Xabi Alonso is booked for dissent and Isco replaces the man of the first half Di Maria.
This game dissolves into constant fouls. Barcelona are clearly looking to kill the game off now and with 87 minutes on the clock Pedro and Pepe chase after a ball and a little tussle ensues. Pepe looks irked but Pedro strolls away. Goal kick to Madrid.
Immediately Barcelona seize the ball and Messi is fouled by Alonso. Messi looks to be in some pain but such has been the reaction to fouls in this half the extent of his injury is hard to tell. Barcelona have this free kick in an attacking position but choose to pass it backwards and continue to stroke the ball around. Madrid win back the ball in the 89th minute and Ronaldo strives forward. He appears to be fouled but nothing is given. 89 minutes gone, Alvaro Morata replaces Modric.
Real Madrid have a free kick out wide and they try to overload the Barca box. Alonso's cross is poor and Barcelona easily clear. They counter attack up the right with the ubiquitous Alves crossing to Messi. Fortunately for Madrid Lopez gets there first and they can breathe again.
Three minutes of added time. Barcelona win another free kick and stroke it around the halfway line. Madrid are pressing desperately, chasing the Barcelona players like cavemen for their food. Bale fouls Busquets in the 92nd minute and provided Barcelona play with maturity that should be it. They stroke the ball around and Real Madrid are starting to chase shadows.
A bit of attacking intent is shown as Messi looks to create a chance but it is cut out. Barcelona get the ball back quickly and try to score but Sanchez's shot is blocked. Real Madrid win a free kick and their last attacking chance presents itself but Bale gives the ball away.
Full time. Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona.
Madrid's chance to go seven points clear is controversially taken away from them by two penalties. The players look stunned and no characteristic fight takes place. Instead the Madrid players shake hands with the Barcelona players and walk down the tunnel. The Barcelona celebrations are surprisingly reserved.
The game had everything and showed both the beautiful and ugly sides of football. Sensational attacking play from both sides, weak defending and of course, controversy. Di Maria and Benzema were the men of the first half but Benzema's wasted chances have cost Madrid, even though it seemed Messi's big chance with the score at 1-0 Barcelona would have the biggest effect on the outcome of the match.
Messi will be delighted with his hat trick. He has broken records tonight, he has now scored more Clasico goals than Alfredo Di Stefano and has gone to second in the all-time La Liga scoring rankings. He is sixteen goals behind Bilbao legend Telmo Zarra, who scored 252 La Liga goals.
Atletico Madrid top La Liga with 70 points, Madrid are behind on head-to-head and Barcelona's win brings them within a point of the two on 69. Had Madrid been able to hold on they'd be a point clear of Atletico and four clear of the Catalans. A win would have them seven clear of Barcelona and three clear of Atletico.
The most watched club game of them all certainly lived up to its billing.
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