It was a game that had everything; goals, skill, penalties and controversy. El Clasico lived up to the hype and then went much further. Barcelona won by four goals to three at the Bernabeu to move them within a point of Real and Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
Andres Iniesta opened the scoring against the run of play, as Real Madrid were pressing high up the pitch and causing Barcelona problems. A clever ball from Lionel Messi put Iniesta through on goal after Dani Carvajal was too narrow.
Angel di Maria came to life, as Barca pushed for a second. The Argentine crossed twice for Karim Benzema to first of all equalise and then put Madrid into the lead.
It had become a feature of the first half, as both teams were woefully exposed at right-back. Carvajal's positioning and decision making was suspect, whilst the marauding Dani Alves had no cover from fellow countryman Neymar in front of him.
Messi struck Barcelona's second of the match to send the two sides into the break level. Referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco then became influential in the second half as he awarded a spot-kick to Madrid, when Cristiano Ronaldo was caught just outside the box. Ronaldo wasn't going to complain, as he gave Los Blancos the advantage once more.
Then, he gave two more penalties to Barcelona, which were dispatched by Messi. Neymar was judged to have been pulled back by Sergio Ramos when running toward goal, and the defender was given a straight red card. Iniesta was then brought down by Xabi Alonso, enabling Messi to complete his hat-trick and give his team a much-needed win.
Inevitably there will be complaints from the Madrid dressing room; whenever decisions aren't clear-cut it's the losing team's prerogative to act like the victim. Perhaps, their energy would be better used to determine why they had underperforming multimillion euro stars.
This was a decent showing from Real Madrid overall; they were good in possession, and they had the chances to put the game beyond doubt. Di Maria was superb, especially in the first half. As I explained for FourFourTwo, he has become more influential in the midfield role with Sami Khedira out injured. Karim Benzema was also very effective; he missed some good opportunities but took his brace well.
The big concern for Carlo Ancelotti will be the ineffectiveness of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. They had their moments of course. Ronaldo when he won and converted the penalty. Bale when he harassed Jordi Alba and on one magnificent run.
In comparison, Messi was behind everything that was good about Barcelona's play. His slide rule pass for the opener and then the sheer will to make it 2-2. Some will point to the fact that two of his goals were penalties, though the pressure was immense and they were practically unstoppable.
He may have been the team's main finisher, but he was also instrumental in creating chances. Real Madrid have shown since the turn of the year how resilient their defence can be, and he was able to continually breach it. His passing around and into the area was sublime, completing 22 out of 25 passes in the final third, via FourFourTwo Stats Zone.
His goal-scoring feats were record-breaking once again. He now has 21 goals in 25 matches in Clasicos, via Pete Jenson at The Daily Mail. This beat Alfredo Di Stefano, who notched 18 in 30 during these encounters. Messi is now second in the all-time La Liga list; his treble saw him overtake Hugo Sanchez. It was the first away hat-trick in a Clasico for 51 years. The last one was Ferenc Puskas, according to @2010MisterChip on Twitter and translated by AS in English.
Messi continues to amaze and surpass those before him, whilst simultaneously showing players who occupy the same pitch that he is simply on another level.