There will be no fourth consecutive league title for Pep Guardiola’s Barça. Having clawed back the difference at the top of La Liga to four points Barça blew their chance in the clásico as Real Madrid earned their first league victory over Barça for four years. Khedira gave Madrid a first half lead which left Barça chasing the game, and then despite an equalizer from substitute Alexis Sanchez, Madrid restored their lead quickly through Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pep Guardiola made two changes to the team that lost at Chelsea with Cristian Tello and Thiago Alcantara coming in for Cesc Fabregas and Alexis. However, Dani Alves played a forward role leaving a back three of Puyol, Mascherano and Adriano. Thiago played deeper than usual close to Sergio Busquets while Iniesta played an attacking midfield role trying to support Messi, with Tello stuck to the left.
Real Madrid played the same eleven that lost in Munich meaning Coentrao continued at left back instead of Marcelo. From early on it seemed clear that Madrid were more tuned in the game. Barça were caught in possession too much and we gave some lose passing. Ronaldo had Madrid’s first occasion with a header from Ozil’s corner and Valdés had to stretch to tip the ball over.
Barça responded when Alves robbed the ball in the Madrid half but the ball ran away from him a little too far and Casillas was quickly out to save. Barça were struggling to find ways through however, Tello was isolated on the left and when Iniesta did find him he was called offside. Madrid won their third corner in the 16th minute and when the ball arrived to the far post Pepe beat Adriano to the jump, Valdés made a good stop but the ball stopped dead just two yards out, Puyol tried to clear but Khedira was quicker bundling the ball over the line.
With an uphill task Barça continued to struggle. Tello cut inside and shot wide but the best chance came on 27 minute when Messi played a magnificent ball into Xavi but Casillas managed to get a slight touch which sent the ball the wrong side of the far post. However, there was little else in the first half as Xavi, Thiago and Iniesta failed to control the midfield. Tello failed to control a great Messi pass and then Thiago sent a hopeful long shot well wide. it wasn’t happening for us and Madrid showed the danger of a quick counter when Ozil robbed Iniesta before dribbling past Thiago but Mascherano was across to save the day.
The second half continued with the same pattern with Madrid working hard to close down the spaces. The chances for Barça were falling to Tello who tonight was well off with his finishing. One Thiago through ball should have been finished by Tello mishit a great chance well wide. In the 69th minute Guardiola decided to bring on Alexis which begs the question of how injured was he, and within a minute he had put Barça level. Messi went on a run, Iniesta flicked the ball onto Tello who this time got his shot on target but it was straight at Casillas, the rebound came out to Adriano, 25 yards out, and he drove the ball back in low to Alexis whose first shot was stopped by Casillas but he managed to force home the rebound.
If there was hope here that Barça could still win the league it lasted for just three minutes. Ozil was allowed too much time to pick out his pass to Ronaldo who got away from Mascherano before rounding Valdés to score. Guardiola brought on Pedro and then Fabregas but there was no coming back. At the end Madrid looked closer to a third than Barça did to an equalizer but they failed to convert a couple of dangerous counter attacks.
There’s not much more to say really. We could argue that Khedira was offside or that Xabi Alonso was lucky to last the 90 minutes, but it would be looking for excuses. We created too few chances and our finishing was poor when we did. The post mortem will also ask questions about the team selection but it would be harsh to criticise Guardiola after he all has done for us. The only thing now is we have to take it on the chin and get everybody back in good shape for the Chelsea match on Tuesday. It is going to be tougher after this result but I’m sure a Champions League Final would go a long way to helping us get over the disappointment of losing La Liga.
Barça: Valdés 6.5; Alves 6, Puyol 6, Mascherano 6, Adriano 6 (Pedro m74, 5.5); Xavi 6 (Alexis m69, 6.5), Busquets 6, Iniesta 5; Thiago 5.5, Messi 6.5, Tello 5 (Fabregas m81, 6).
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Coentrao; Xabi Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria (Granero m74), Ozil (Callejon m89), Ronaldo; Benzema (Higuain m93).
Goals: m17 Khedira 0-1, m70 Alexis 1-1, m73 Ronaldo 1-2.
Yellow cards: m15 Busquets, m43 Pepe, m47 Xavi Alonso, m74 Ozil, m78 Granero, m86 Mascherano.