Neymar and Jese Rodriguez scored on their Clasico debuts and Alexis Sanchez delivered a spectacular, chipped winner as Barcelona beat Real Madrid 2-1 on Saturday to extend their lead on their archrivals to six points.
The Barcelona supporters honoured former manager Tito Vilanova with a colourful pre-game mosaic and their side was the quickest to settle in front of the nearly 99,000 spectators at Camp Nou and won a free-kick inside seven minutes when Sergio Ramos fouled Sergio Busquets.
But Lionel Messi’s delivery was easily blocked and moments later Gareth Bale, also making his Clasico debut, attempted his first shot of the encounter but couldn’t quite hit the target.
In the 19th minute Barcelona were in front.
Andres Iniesta, who was spectacular on the night, dribbled the ball into the attacking third and dished to Neymar on the left, and despite having three white shirts between himself and the goal the Brazilian attacker released a careful effort that took a slight deflection before finding the back of the net.
The Catalans seemed to grow in strength after that first goal as Madrid struggled for a foot-hold. Messi had another shot blocked before Sami Khedira popped up with a chance for the guests late in the first half—the Germany midfielder directing Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross into the hands of Victor Valdes.
Neither side made a change at the interval, but it was Madrid who came out with renewed vigor after the break. Sergio Ramos, on a booking from the first half, quickly got involved in a scrum with Iniesta and Pique as Khedira was also drawn into the melee in the 48th minute.
Carlo Ancelotti's eyebrows have a funny way of expressing a game in a much better way than words ever could: pic.twitter.com/VnHWDLr0Jl— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 26, 2013
But Madrid, now pressing higher up the pitch, found one or two more chances before the hour-mark—notably a shot from Ronaldo that tested Valdes at the near post.
It was in the 61st minute, with Bale’s withdrawal in favour of Karim Benzema, that Madrid finally hit on something resembling balance, and a good piece of buildup play in the 69th minute ended with the Frenchman placing his effort slightly over the bar.
Then, in the 71st minute, Madrid were denied a clear penalty when Ronaldo was pushed to the ground by Javier Mascherano inside the Barcelona area. But the Portugal captain’s protests were ignored by the referee, who waved play on.
Real Madrid look disheartened after being denied a penalty by the ref & a goal by the crossbar. #ElClasico— Church of Soccer (@churchofsoccer) October 26, 2013
Less than a minute later Benzema rang a hard shot off the woodwork, but despite enjoying their best spell of the match Madrid found themselves 2-0 down with 11 minute remaining.
Alexis, having replaced Cesc Fabregas, ran onto a delightful Neymar through-ball before finding himself one-on-one with Raphael Varane. Jinking first to his left end then to his right, the Chilean finally placed a delicate chip over the defender’s head that also evaded Lopez before coming to rest in the back of the net.
It was an insurance marker Barcelona would end up needing as Jese, introduced in place of Angel Di Maria, beat Valdes with a well-placed effort following Ronaldo’s pass in the first minute of stoppage time.
Key Player Grades
Talk about a Clasico debut to remember. The Brazilian opened the scoring against Real Madrid in the 19th minute and also had a hand in Sanchez’s eventual winner. He was substituted to a standing ovation in the 84th minute.
Andres Iniesta: A
The Spanish international had run his socks off by the time he was withdrawn in the 77th minute. In addition to setting up Neymar for the opener he also completed 86% of his passes and executed five successful tackles on the defensive side of the ball. (All statistics courtesy WhoScored.com)
Cristiano Ronaldo: B+
He lacked a target man until Benzema’s introduction and didn’t seem to play all that well with Bale, who was next to anonymous. He had only the one short on target, but he should have been sent to the spot after being brought to ground by Mascherano midway through the second half.
Barcelona will be away to Celta Vigo on Tuesday and will host Espanyol in the local derby on November 1. Five days later they’ll welcome AC Milan to Camp Nou in the Champions League. Real Madrid, meanwhile, will host Sevilla on Wednesday and visit Rayo Vallecano on November 2. Three days after that they’ll travel to Turin to face Juventus.