Barcelona wins season’s first Clasico
Barcelona overcame conceding one of the fastest goals in clasico history to end Real Madrid’s 15-match winning run 3-1 in Bernabeu Stadium on Saturday.
Barcelona also overtook Madrid on goal difference atop the Spanish league standings.
Karim Benzema pounced to open the scoring just 21 seconds in after Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdez miskicked a clearance.
But Lionel Messi ripped open the Madrid defense to provide the equalizer for Alexis Sanchez on the half-hour mark and Xavi marked his 600th game for Barcelona with a deflected shot for the lead in the 53rd.
Cesc Fabregas headed in the third at the back post in the 66th.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho sprang a minor surprise in his starting lineup by naming the more attack-minded Mesut Oezil alongside Lassana Diarra and Xabi Alonso in midfield. In the buildup, Mourinho and assistant Aitor Karanka dropped hints that a more defensive midfielder would bolster the center of the pitch to choke Barcelona’s possession.
Mourinho also named Benzema up front with Cristiano Ronaldo, holding Gonzalo Higuain back on the bench.
Counterpart Pep Guardiola started with Alexis Sanchez and Fabregas providing support to Messi. Captain Carles Puyol replaced Javier Mascherano in the center of defense alongside Gerard Pique, with David Villa on the bench.
As expected, Madrid’s players started the game at breakneck speed, but it was a simple mistake by Valdez that presented the home side with the quickfire opening goal.
The Barcelona goalkeeper shanked his attempted clearance straight to Angel Di Maria, who tried to release Benzema.
The attempted pass looped up off Sergio Busquets into the path of Oezil, whose volley hit Busquets again, but this time the ball rebounded to Benzema who smashed into the roof of the net from point-blank range.
That goal, timed at 21 seconds, is believed to be the fastest in clasico history and only the fifth between the teams in the first minute of play.
The early strike fueled the electric atmosphere in the Bernabeu, with white flag-waving fans baying at every adverse refereeing decision and even cheering throw-ins.
Barcelona threatened for the first time when Sergio Ramos slipped in possession and presented the ball to Messi, but Iker Casillas produced a fine low save to thwart the Argentine forward in the seventh minute.
Benzema had a header saved in the 11th, but Valdez hashed another clearance shortly after to give Xabi Alonso the chance to try a trademark long-range lob which he miscued badly.
As Madrid kept the Barcelona attack at bay, Cristiano Ronaldo advanced through midfield and stung Valdez’s palms with a shot he could only push away in the 19th.
Casillas punched over a free kick from Xavi three minutes later, before Ronaldo skewed wide with a clear chance in the 25th. Real Madrid’s top scorer clutched his head in despair at the waste.
The struggling Ronaldo drew catcalls from the normally adoring Bernabeu crowd when he opted for a speculative shot in the 28th when a cross might have been the better option.
Lassana Diarra then made a rare foray into opposition territory to fire a shot high over the bar on the half hour.
With Barcelona’s attack stuttering, it took a familiar stroke of genius from Messi to create the equalizer.
Messi collected the ball just inside the opposition half and embarked on a mazy dribble that drew several defenders before he fed Sanchez to slide the ball in. Sanchez wheeled away to celebrate, but Barcelona’s players first converged on Messi in recognition of his crucial assist.
Barcelona needed none of Messi’s wizardry to take the lead—just raw luck. Madrid’s players allowed the tempo to drop a notch, when Xavi tried a chopped volley from the edge of the area. The shot took a huge deflection off Marcelo and bounced in off the post past the wrong-footed Casillas’ dive in the 53rd.
Barcelona was now in control and Casillas was forced to save low from Sanchez just after the hour, then Messi pinged a free kick just wide of the post.
More evidence that it was not to be Ronaldo’s night came when the Madrid striker headed a glorious chance wide from Alonso’s cross in the 65th and the miss was ruthlessly punished.
Just a minute later, Dani Alves rampaged down the right flank and sent a cross to the back post that Fabregas met with a diving header planted across goal to give Barcelona a two-goal cushion.
Mourinho sent on Kaka in place of Oezil and threw Higuain into the fray in search of a way back into the game.
Higuain spurned a chance from Benzema’s cross in the 75th and Valdez went some way to redeeming himself with a save from Kaka in the 84th.
As Madrid trudged off the pitch at the final whistle, Mourinho walked over to the Barcelona bench and shook hands with Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova.
Vilanova, who was gouged in the eye by Mourinho after their Supercopa match at the start of the season, was back after recovering from surgery to remove a tumor on his parotid gland.
Earlier, Levante maintained its surprise bid for a Champions League spot by beating Sevilla 1-0 at home from Nano’s second-half goal, while two stoppage-time goals from Ruben Castro helped Real Betis rally to a 2-1 win against Valencia.