The last few seasons, Real Madrid have run into the same roadblock over and over. That roadblock, of course, is Barcelona.
Matches between the two fell into a familiar pattern: The Blaugrana would win the match and frustrate the life out of Real, who, in turn, would usually take their anger out on Barcelona players or the referee.
Yesterday, it was a completely different story. Real went into the match focused and determined. They weren’t going to get rattled and let the title slip away, and they defended brilliantly throughout the match.
Barcelona did have some chances, though, and they will be kicking themselves for missing them—most notably when Xavi was in one-on-one with only Iker Casillas to beat, but couldn’t knock it past him. Still, they were not able to create nearly as many chances as they usually do, thanks in large part to Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa, who foiled attacks all night.
Lionel Messi had a fairly quiet game for his standards, and his frustration really showed late in the match after he got into a verbal altercation with Arbeloa.
The first goal came after 17 minutes. Pepe rose to meet a corner kick, and his header could only be parried by Victor Valdes. The ball should have been cleared out by Carlos Puyol, as he had shielded Sami Khedira from the ball, but he took too long to get it out, and Khedira was able to bundle it in between his legs and in. The lead would stand for 53 minutes.
In the 70th minute, substitute Alexis Sanchez got the equalizer. Messi played in Cristian Tello, who had his shot turned away by Casillas. After the ball was knocked back into the box, it fell to Sanchez, who scored. That set up an exciting final 20 minutes, with everything to play for.
Real would respond like champions. Just three minutes later, Ronaldo would score the winner, silencing critics who say that he doesn’t show up in big matches.
The goal was set up by Mesut Ozil, who was fantastic all night. The through ball was right on the money, and Ronaldo rounded Valdes and knocked it into the empty net.
With the win, Real Madrid move seven points clear of Barcelona and effectively end the title race. However, Barcelona may get a chance for revenge if both teams can overturn their first-leg deficits in the Champions League. If they do meet again, Real should try to follow the exact same blueprint that they followed yesterday, as it worked brilliantly.