Neymar leads Barcelona to 2-1 win over Madrid

Neymar scored in his first clasico and set up Alexis Sanchez for

an exquisite decider as Barcelona beat fierce rival Real Madrid 2-1

at Camp Nou in the Spanish league on Saturday.

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 adversary Gareth

Bale.

”Scoring a goal in a clasico is very special,” Neymar said.

”It’s a game that everyone wants to play. It was like a dream come

true.”

While Neymar has lived up to his 57-million-euro transfer this

summer, questions over the wisdom of Madrid’s 100 million euros

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 went on to hit the woodwork as Madrid threatened to

equalize 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.

Neymar followed in the footsteps of former Brazilian standouts

Romario and Rivaldo, who scored in their first matches for the

Catalan club against Madrid. And his playmaking echoed Ronaldinho’s

assist in his first clasico.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino, also making his clasico debut,

was careful not to overpraise Neymar, while also giving credit to

Messi for his work in defense.

”The transcendence of this game and the goal he scored

magnified the level of his performance,” Martino said about

Neymar. ”But I think he has had better games than tonight. As far

as what (Messi) did for the team to recover the ball, I give him a

superlative mark.”

Also, Celta emphatically broke a four-game losing streak with a

5-0 rout at Malaga. Levante rolled to a 3-0 win at home over

Espanyol, and Granada won 1-0 at Elche.

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 of its league

challengers. It lost 1-0 to Atletico last month.

”I think we showed good football in front of a fantastic

team,” Ancelotti said after his first clasico. ”At this moment it

was a good test. We are improving.”

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 in

midfield, while 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.

Two minutes later, Iniesta dribbled into the area and laid off

for Neymar on the left flank. Madrid appeared to have him hemmed

in, but he 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 in.

It was Neymar’s fourth goal in 14 matches since joining from

Santos this offseason.

While Neymar sparkled, Bale was limited to a pair of harmless

long-range attempts as Madrid failed to muster a shot on target

until a minute before halftime.

Madrid gained ground as the second half wore on and Barcelona

appeared to tire, leaving 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 came 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 the diving

Lopez, who was caught just off his line.

”I didn’t have any other option,” Alexis said. ”I saw the

goalkeeper coming forward and I had to try it. Fortunately it went

in.”

Neymar received an ovation when he was substituted six minutes

from time before Rodriguez fired under Victor Valdes, who plans to

leave Barcelona next summer and could have played his last home

game against Madrid unless the teams meet in the Champions League

or Spanish cup.

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.