A defeat in the Clasico would have proved extremely costly for Barcelona, possibly too costly, while even a draw would have left them—or more notably Real Madrid’s future opponents—with a lot to do.
Fortunately for the Catalans, all those worries were banished with a fantastic 4-3 win at the Bernabeu on Sunday evening.
Lionel Messi’s hat-trick and Andres Iniesta’s terrific early opener mean that Gerardo Martino’s side’s title aspirations were not left in "Tatas" seven points back, but rather hauled them back to within a point of the two Madrid sides at the top.
Di Maria’s early effect
In a midfield packed with the best generation of footballers Spain has ever produced, plus Luka Modric, who is not too dissimilar to the tiki-taka types, Angel Di Maria’s role was always going to be interesting.
Since moving to a central-midfield role for Madrid, the Argentine has impressed with his energy, enthusiasm and quality.
And after Barca had taken an early lead, it was Di Maria who was twice able to ghost into vast areas of space on the left side to twice set up Karim Benzema when Los Blancos rallied.
The two stills below show the huge amounts of space into which Barcelona allowed the midfielder to roam in the first half. They didn’t learn their lesson either, because he created more chances still as the game progressed; Gerard Pique was on hand to clear one off the line.
Ancelotti’s Messi exaggeration
Carlo Ancelotti’s post-match comments that he felt his side “controlled Messi well” could not be further from the truth:
Ancelotti: "It is true Messi scored three goals, but we controlled him well. Two were penalties. Our control of Messi was good."— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) March 23, 2014
Not only did Messi score three—which the Italian coach did acknowledge—but he also set up Iniesta's opener.
Leaving Messi with even an ounce of space to play in is dangerous, and he was able to supply a perfectly weighted ball for his colleague, who, as the image below reveals, was not tracked by Gareth Bale:
For the equaliser at the end of the first half, Madrid were again guilty of conceding too much space to Barca’s No. 10.
It might only be a tiny square in which to work, but with Messi working it—and with minimal back lift—the scenario usually results in a goal, as it did here.
Messi’s role in Barcelona’s first penalty was key, too. The focus may be on whether Sergio Ramos clipped Neymar or not, but that shouldn’t drag attention away from what was a criminally good pass from Barca’s top scorer.
The longer of the two passes on this image from the Squawka app was the pass Messi made in the build-up to the penalty (incidentally, he dispatched both his penalties in emphatic fashion):
Being a referee in a Clasico encounter is a thankless task, but considering the time he has to make the decisions, he can probably only be blamed for one of the three penalties he awarded: the first one.
It’s obvious that Dani Alves catches Cristiano Ronaldo—the image below is clear on that.
However, it is also clear that the Brazilian committed the foul outside the area, and the Portuguese’s momentum carried him into the box. In the moment, though, it would be very difficult for the official to spot that.
The Barcelona penalties won by Neymar and Iniesta were both definitely in the box.
And while arguments can be made for and against the awarding of both of them, the neutrals' consensus has to be that there was enough there for the referee to point to the spot on both occasions.
But Iniesta’s in particular was a case of "sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t."