Barcelona and Real Madrid tied 2-2 in the first Clasico in a La Liga fixture this season, in a match that featured masterful performances from both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo continued his remarkable recent goal-scoring record against Barça, and put his name on the scoresheet for the fifth consecutive time against his biggest rival in the 23rd minute.
The goal was simply world-class. Ronaldo found space wide of the Barcelona defense and held his run perfectly, and Karim Benzema put him through on goal. His clever near-post finish caught Victor Valdes off-guard.
While Ronaldo's goal was technically flawless, Messi showed another mark of a great goal-scorer—punishing a defender's mistake. Madrid center-back Pepe mistimed his jump on an attempted clearance and allowed the ball to bounce dangerously in the penalty area. Messi was the first to pounce on the opportunity and leveled the score in the 31st minute.
The first half ended in a 1-1 draw, but these superstars had plenty in store for the crowd when play resumed.
In the 61st minute, Messi won a free kick in a threatening area, then took the chance himself. He beautifully bent the ball over the wall and passed a helpless Iker Casillas.
But just four minutes later, Ronaldo took advantage of a massive gap in the Barcelona defense and found himself one-on-one with Valdes after Mesut Ozil played him through. He calmly finished the golden opportunity.
Barcelona had quality opportunities late in the match, including a shot from Martin Montoya that rang off the crossbar in the 89th minute, but no game-winner was produced.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid: A
Ronaldo has terrorized the Barcelona defense in the past year and continued to do so in this match. He punished the back line's lack of discipline and poor positioning with clever runs and cold-blooded finishing.
In a Clasico, Ronaldo is expected to come through with a fantastic performance, and this is exactly what he did.
Lionel Messi, Barcelona: A
Messi is the other player fans look to for an excellent match in this rivalry, and he did not disappoint either. He played the role of poacher on the first goal, instantly making Pepe regret his defensive error.
His second goal was a moment of magic that seems so rare in soccer but happens so frequently when Messi is on the pitch. With four combined goals from the two best players on the planet, spectators could not have asked for more from this match.
Pepe, Real Madrid: C
The Portuguese center-back vaulted wildly in the air after a deflected cross and completely missed the ball on Barcelona's first goal. Other than this error, Pepe did not perform all that poorly.
But a mistake by a defender in the penalty error is unforgivable when it leads to a goal, and such an error is scrutinized even further when it occurs in a match of this magnitude.
Javier Mascherano, Barcelona: C
Barcelona's defense did not perform admirably either, as they attempted to play without Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Mascherano needed to do a much better job in this match of keeping the back line organized.
Ronaldo did display impressive finishing on both of his goals, but he was also allowed a mind-boggling amount of space on each attempt. While all four defenders contributed to a poor showing, Mascherano is singled out as the most experienced member of the back line.
Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid: B+
Ozil continued to be the creative spark in the Madrid attack in this match, and his instant recognition of Barça's shoddy defending led to his team's second goal. His smart through-ball earned him an assist.
The crafty German midfielder has continued to thrive in an attacking center-midfielder role, and this will be one of many fine performances from Ozil against Barcelona as his career continues.
Xavi, Barcelona: B-
Xavi is tasked with being the creative force in Barcelona's attack, and he was not as effective as Ozil in this match. The midfield maestro failed to make a significant impact.
Both goals were the result of individual efforts from Messi, and not the slick passing that so often is driven by Xavi. While this is not a terrible result for the Catalan giants, they certainly will feel that they could have earned three points in this match with better performances from key players.
Barcelona's next league fixture is against Deportivo La Corña, who has earned just six points in seven games. Three points is nearly a guarantee in this match.
Madrid will attempt to continue making up for a poor start to its La Liga campaign as the club faces Celta Vigo.