Barça did little to shake off the recent negative image, going down 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu this afternoon. Karim Benzema gave Madrid an early lead before Leo Messi equalized in the 18th minute to equal Alfredo Di Stefano record of 18 clásico goals. The game remained at 1-1 until the 82nd minute when Sergio Ramos headed in Madrid’s winner from another corner. Barça had a very strong shout for a penalty when Adriano was tripped by Ramos in injury time and the protests continued at the final whistle with Victor Valdés receiving a red card for offering referee Pérez Lasa his heated opinion.
Barça made four changes to the team that lost in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday with Valdés, Mascherano, Thiago and Villa coming in for Pinto, Puyol, Xavi and Fabregas. Madrid, with a Champions League game at Old Trafford on Tuesday, made eight changes and started with Diego López, Essien, Ramos, Varane, Coentrao, Modric, Pepe, Callejón, Kaká, Morata and Benzema.
Everything looked right for Barça to gain a little revenge for Tuesday’s cup defeat but it took only six minutes for Madrid to go in front. Thiago got a chance to start a counter attack but his pass towards the static Messi on the half way line was intercepted by Ramos who sent the ball out to Morata on the left. Dani Alves was slack in his closing down which allowed Madrid’s youngster the chance to cross, neither Piqué, Valdés nor Mascherano could cut the ball out and Mascherano also lost sight of Benzema who stole in to score in the empty net.
The reaction from Barça was timid. Madrid sat back to limit space to Barça’s forwards and besides a couple of crosses from Alba and Villa which were easily cleared, there was little penetration. In the 17th minute Messi couldn’t get on to Alves’s ball into the area but a minute later the two combined again with Alves playing an excellent look-the-other-way pass with the outside of his right boot for Messi to receive in the right-hand side of the area, Ramos was in close attendance but with four rapid touches with the outside of his left foot Messi cut inside before whipping in a quick low shot that beat Lopez at his near post.
With the equalizer Barça were looking comfortable in possession but Madrid continued to look the more dangerous. Piqué did well to slide in and block Morata after the youngster was allowed to dribble into the area, while Valdés had to deal with an awkward deflected cross and a hopeful 25-yarder from Kaká. The next danger at the other end came after Madrid made a mess of saving a throw-in and then a corner, only to gift the ball to Pedro who could only lose the ball immediately to Ramos.
As in recent games Messi was struggling in an overcrowded area and besides the goal he had seen little of the ball near the penalty area. Madrid didn’t care too much when Messi and Iniesta were allowed to pass the ball between themselves unchallenged, 50 metres from goal. The only decent Barça attack between Messi’s goal and half time came in the 32nd minute when Busquets nipped in to rob Essien’s pass out of defence, sending the ball on to Iniesta who touched it through for Villa to pass the ball inside across the edge of the area for Messi who got between Varane and Ramos but could only send his right-footed shot straight at Lopez. Most of the remainder of the first half was a stalemate with Barça failing to get through Madrid’s compact deep lines. In the 39th minute there was a chance for Morata from Modric’s deep cross to the far post but the youngster’s header went in the sidenetting.
At half-time you could have said that the game was pretty even though the pattern of the game was clearly favouring Madrid. Barça needed to step things up a bit and show more ambition going forward and for a time Barça looked the more likely to score. In the 53rd minute Messi spread the ball out to Alves on the right and the Argentinian was not far away from the Brazilian’s dangerous low cross. A minute later Piqué went on a forward run and nearly put Messi through though Varane did well to intercept the danger. Then in the 57th minute Messi went on his best run of the game, gliding past two challenges in midfield before sending a ball for Villa to chase. In his best days El Guaje would have buried the chance but this time he wasn’t quite as sharp and Varane and Lopez blocked the chance between them.
It was at this point that Mourinho decided to bring on Ronaldo and Khedira in place of Benzema and Kaká and the effect on Madrid was immediate. In Ronaldo’s first action Piqué was drawn into receiving a yellow card. Soon after Callejon’s cross was just out of reach of Morata and Ronaldo. Then in the 65th minute Valdés had to be very alert to beat away a tremendous Ronaldo free kick which was swerving all over the place.
Barça could find no reaction. Alexis came on in place of Villa and showed more willingness to chase Madrid in possession than his teammates, though his burst of energy did little more than show how sluggish his teammates were in the last period of the game. Ronaldo had Piqué backpeddling again but the final shot went into the sidenetting. Then Pepe sent a pass over the Barça defence for Morata and Valdés did well to hold his ground and block the shot.
Adriano came on for Pedro but Barça looked like a disaster waiting to happen with Messi, Iniesta and Thiago all fading as the game went on. The only attempt on Madrid’s goal came with a horrendously wayward shot from Alves. Then in the 82nd minute Madrid sent a long free kick into Barça’s penalty area and a moment of doubt between Piqué and Alves led to Piqué heading the ball out needlessly for a corner. On Tuesday Madrid scored from a corner from the right, this time the ball came in from Modric on the left, the defending was poor just the same as Piqué failed to get as high as Ramos who headed firmly past Valdés.
Despite there still being ten minutes left Barça looked defeated. The humiliation would have been worse had Ronaldo’s chipped free kick not bounced out off the top of the post. Then in injury time Barça made a last push for an equalizer with Adriano and Alexis combining in the area and as Adriano went past Ramos, the Madrid defender stuck out his leg and brought Adriano down. People may talk about Adriano exaggerating his fall but the contact looked clear and it should have been a penalty. Alba was booked for protesting and then at the final whistle Victor Valdés totally lost it, receiving a post-match red card to add to Barça’s problems.
Right now I have no intention to go into the post-mortem as frankly the performance has left me deflated, but I stand by what I said after Tuesday’s defeat and in the match preview for today’s game. I don’t see it so much a matter of who plays and in what formation. These players have not become bad players overnight and the fundamental problem seems to be the lack of leadership. Over to you guys.
Madrid: Diego López; Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Coentrao (Arbeloa m68); Modric, Essien; Callejón, Kaká (Khedira m57), Morata; Benzema (Ronaldo m57)
Barça: Valdés 6.5; Alves 5, Piqué 5, Mascherano 5, Alba 6; Thiago 5 (Tello m85, –), Busquets 6, Iniesta 6; Pedro 5 (Adriano m77, 6), Messi 6, Villa 5 (Alexis m67, 5.5).
Goals: m6 Benzema 1-0, m18 Messi 1-1, m82 Ramos 2-1.
Yellow cards: m51 Ramos, m55 Alba, m58 Piqué, m61 Coentrao, m64 Thiago, m68 Morata, m91 Alves, m93 Alba.
Red card: Valdés, after final whistle.