Barcelona defeats rival Real Madrid
With Lionel Messi oddly quiet, Neymar opened in the 19th minute from close range after receiving Andres Iniesta’s pass as the Brazil striker outshone fellow newcomer and rival Gareth Bale.
While Neymar lived up to his (euro) 57-million transfer this summer, questions over the wisdom of Madrid’s (euro) 100-million payout for Bale will continue after he failed to produce a shot on goal before being replaced by Karim Benzema with half an hour to go.
Benzema hit the woodwork before Alexis took Neymar’s pass and sealed the victory in the 78th with a brilliant chipped shot.
Substitute Jese Rodriguez got Madrid’s consolation goal in injury time after a lightning counterattack.
Madrid had improved in its recent visits to Camp Nou, including a 3-1 win in the Copa del Rey last February, but Barcelona restored its home dominance over its traditional rival for the league crown.
The victory was Barcelona’s ninth to go with one lone draw in the league this season, lifting it a provisional four points clear of Atletico Madrid which hosts Real Betis on Sunday.
Madrid was left a full six points adrift of the pacesetters and with reawakened doubts over the direction of the team under new coach Carlo Ancelotti after losses to both its league challengers. It lost 1-0 to Atletico last month.
Bale made his second start of the season since being hampered by muscle injuries, but he didn’t prove to be effective in attack with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ancelotti further tweaked his starting 11 with Sergio Ramos into midfield, while Barcelona’s Gerard Martino chose Cesc Fabregas to accompany Messi and Neymar in attack.
Neymar struck the ball into the arms of Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the game’s first shot on goal in the 17th.
The strike was only a warning of what was to come two minutes later when Iniesta dribbled into the area and laid off for Neymar on the left flank. Madrid appeared to have him hemmed in, but the 21-year-old Brazilian used his right foot to slip a shot between the legs of Dani Carvajal, with the ball taking a deflection off the defender’s thigh before trickling into the far side of the net.
Messi came close to scoring a second for the hosts two minutes later when he broke free down the right side, only to send the ball the wrong side of the far post.
While Neymar shone, Bale was limited to a pair of harmless long-range attempts that sailed high as Madrid failed to muster a shot on target until a minute before halftime.
Victor Valdes, who could have played his last home game against Madrid unless the teams meet in the Champions League or Spanish cup, was well positioned to save Sami Khedira’s attempt to knock in Ronaldo’s cross.
Neymar tested Lopez with a sharp volley from a long pass in the 54th, and Valdes was called into action in the 58th when Iniesta lost a rare ball in midfield that led to Ronaldo running free to draw a block from Valdes, who has said he will leave Barcelona this summer.
Madrid gained ground as the second half wore on and Barcelona appeared to tire and left Benzema unmarked to rip a shot off the woodwork in the 72nd.
But Neymar helped Alexis secure the three points when he spotted the Chilean’s run after he had come on for Fabregas in the 70th.
Alexis pulled up outside the area with Raphael Varane in front of him and coolly lofted the ball over the defender and Lopez, who was caught just off his line.
Neymar received an ovation when he was substituted with six minutes from time before Rodriguez scored on the break for Madrid.
Before the match, Camp Nou displayed a giant mosaic with the message ”Forca Tito” (”Stay Strong Tito” in Catalan) in support of former coach Tito Vilanova, who had to step down this summer as he fights throat cancer.