Barça and Real Madrid drew 2-2 in a thrilling contest tonight at Camp Nou with Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the goals between them. Ronaldo put Madrid deservedly ahead halfway through the first half only for Messi to equalize seven minutes later. As the game swung back in Barça’s favour Messi sent Camp Nou into ecstasy with a brilliant curling free kick after an hour only for Ronaldo to bring things level again five minutes later. Both sides hit also hit the woodwork, Benzema when Madrid were 0-1 up, while Martin Montoya, who’d come on as a first half sub for the injured Dani Alves, cracked the crossbar in the dying minutes.
The big surprise from Tito Vilanova was the choice of Adriano Correira to play alongside Javier Mascherano in defence, Cesc continued in midfield while Iniesta stated wide on the left with Alexis on the bench. José Mourinho went for a classic Madrid XI with Ozil being preferred to Modric and Kaká, Khedira alongslde Alonso and with Benzema starting up front.
Madrid had the better of the opening exchanges with Di Maria firing the first shot over the bar in the sixth minute. Barça were finding it difficult to create danger with the first sign being a low cross from Cesc in the 11th minute that Pepe cut out. Benzema then had a chance with a volley that he mishit and as Madrid continued to press forward Ramos headed inches wide from Ozil’s corner.
Barça finally managed to complete a patient move forward with Cesc assisting Iniesta who gained a yard on Alonso but sent his shot over from the edge of the area. However, Madrid continued to look the more dangerous team and with their own patient build-up they took the lead in the 23rd minute. The move began with Ozil on the right and the ball came across through Khedira and Benzema who found Ronaldo with room on the left, Alves was slow again as at Sevilla to close down the opponent, and Ronaldo fired low past Valdés at his near post.
Madrid could easily have gone 0-2 up soon after when Benzema had room to fire against the post from 10 yards and we were fortunate that Di Maria sent the rebound wide. Things were not looking good and it got worse soon after when Alves went down injured and had to be replaced by Montoya. Alves will be out for three weeks, though it is fair to say that he is way off his best form recently and it was after Montoya came on that Barça began to improve.
Three minutes after the substitution Iniesta found Pedro on the right and his cross first hit Ramos before ricocheting off Alonso and looping in the air inside the area, Pepe made an awful mess of jumping in an attempt to head clear and the ball broke loose just six yards out and Messi was on hand to pounce and stroke the ball past Casillas for the equalizer. The rest of the first half was a bit scrappy as Pedro and Alonso received the first yellow cards but Madrid were not pushing us back so much and we were looking much more comfortable.
The second half began with a scare as Ozil went down in the area after brushing Mascherano but the ref Delgado Ferreiro, probably correctly, waved play on. Barça went straight up the other end with a tremendous run from Messi on the right but his low cross was cut out. Xavi had a shot blocked but it was difficult for either side to find chances. Iniesta then went down in Madrid’s area after a similar brush with Pepe and Delgado Ferreiro again waved play on. Montoya had been pretty solid since coming on but Ozil once, and Ronaldo twice, managed to get away from him but the crosses were off target. At the other end Iniesta won a corner and Pedro sent in another cross with no finisher.
The game was very well balanced but a moment of genius from Messi put Barça in front. Xavi Alonso was a touch fortunate not to see a second yellow for bringing Messi down just over 25 yards out. Messi and Xavi lined up for the kick and it was Messi who curled a splendid curler over the wall and out of Casillas’s reach. Mourinho brought on Higuain for Benzema while Tito opted for Alexis in place of Fabregas, and Iniesta moved back to midfield where he was more effective. Unfortunately Alexis wasn’t too effective and in the 66th minute he lost the ball to Ozil who played the ball quickly through our exposed defence and Ronaldo finished clinically.
The final twenty minutes saw Barça as the team looking more like scoring as Iniesta and Messi began to combine more. Messi sent a short cross just too far for Pedro to reach and then Iniesta sent in another low cross to nobody. We won more free kicks but Messi couldn’t repeat his feat while at the other end Higuain forced Valdés to a save at his near post.
The game could have gone either way but Barça were pushing forward more. In the 88th minute a patient, almost over-elaborate build up ended with Xavi finding Pedro who knocked the ball back to Montoya who sent in a belter from 25 yards that bounced out off the crossbar with Casillas beaten. There were late shots from Xavi and Pedro twice but none came as close as Montoya’s effort which would have been a brilliant finish to an intense highly entertaining game.
Given Barça’s eight-point advantage the draw will not been taken too badly by Barça and no doubt both sides will try to take it as a victory in some way. The result was a fair one given the merits of the two teams, however, both coaches have work to do. For Barça, despite the good results this season, there is the feeling that the team is quite a way from its best. Perhaps we can claim bad luck with injuries – though I felt Adriano gave a creditable performance at centre back – however, I am more concerned with some of the below-par performances from some of our players. It is not always the same players but Alves and Alexis have had more than their fair share recently. I wonder if we are missing the intensity of Guardiola to keep the players on their toes.
Vilanova took a brave decision with Adriano and in general in can be said to be a good one. Song has struggled there, and while I would have liked to see Bartra when Piqué first got injured, given the failure of Song so far it might have been risky to throw in the youngster now. On the other hand, placing Iniesta on the left made his influence less and despite Alexis’s form, the team improved when Iniesta moved back. The decision of where to play Iniesta is not a new one and we may well have the same argument for a long time. Again we failed to win the seventh league game after winning the first six, however, with Iniesta back and an easyish run of games coming up after the break now for World Cup games, we should be confident of maintaining or increasing our eight point lead in the coming weeks.
Barça: Valdes 6; Alves 5.5 (Montoya m27, 7), Mascherano 6.5, Adriano 7, Alba 7; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 7.5, Fabregas 7 (Alexis m62, 5.5); Pedro 7, Messi 7.5, Iniesta 7.
Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Özil (Kaká m80), Ronaldo, Di María (Essien m88); Benzema (Higuain m62).
Goals: m23 Ronaldo 0-1, m31 Messi 1-1, m61 Messi 2-1, m66 Ronaldo 2-2
Yellow cards: m39 Pedro, m43 Alonso, m54 Busquets, m57 Ozil, m78 Pepe, m90 Arbeloa