Barcelona (FCB).- The triple Liga champions have lost at home to the old enemy on a day that may well have decided the Spanish League title. Real Madrid went head after 16 minutes and opted to defend their lead. Barça, nothing like as sharp as usual in attack, dominated the possession but couldn’t find a way through the compact all-white defence until the 70th minute, when Alexis finally grabbed an equaliser. But the Barça dream lasted little more than a minute, when Cristiano Ronaldo put the visitors back in command. With the return leg against Chelsea around the corner, Barça are now seven points behind the leaders.
Open game from the start
The early exchange of chances clearly benefitted Madrid. They enjoyed the first chance in the 4th minute with a Cristiano Ronaldo header off a corner, which Valdés dealt with expertly. Shortly after, Alves stole the ball from the Madrid defence, and this time it was Casillas who was warming his gloves. The 3-4-3 system with the Brazilian out wide and both Thiago and Tello in the starting line-up were the main surprises in the home side’s tactics. Barça sought width and control of the ball thanks to their superiority not just in numbers but also ability in midfield, while Madrid did all they could to close down the space and unleash their most lethal weapons: aerial play and counter attacks.
Unlucky early goal
Real Madrid went ahead thanks to a goal from a corner in the 16th minute. Following an unfortunate mix-up between Valdés and Puyol, the ball landed at the feet of Khedira in the six yard box, and somehow he managed to shove the ball into the back of the net. The goal inspired Barça to attack with even more heart, while Madrid opted to intensify their defensive tactics. But despite showing plenty of spirit, the home side found it almost impossible to find a way of breaking through the tight wall deployed by Mourinho, which limited Barça to only one truly dangerous opportunity in the entire first half. But what a chance it was. A Messi assist left Xavi one on one with Casillas, who just managed to get enough of his body in the way of the shot to turn it behind for a corner.
Barça keep pressing
The only side showing any attacking intent was FC Barcelona. And they did so with increasing finesse, while Real Madrid could barely hold onto the ball for more than a moment or two before it was back in Barça’s possession. Nevertheless, Barça still couldn’t find a way through, and Madrid seemed happy enough to let them hold onto the ball as long as things stayed that way. With the Camp Nou suffering a torrential downpour, the 99,000 fans in the stadium could only watch in disbelief as the impeccable display from the home side failed to time and again to produce serious chances. The game progressed with very little change in the script. It was a case of Madrid sitting back and lapping everything up in defence, and FC Barcelona doing everything they possibly could to stop that but producing very little in the way of goalscoring opportunities until the 53rd minute when Tello found himself in an ideal position, but sent his shot into the stands.
The Camp Nou was roaring its side on, and at the same voicing its infuriation at Madrid’s time-wasting tactics, which did nothing to help the flow of the match. Alexis came on for Xavi, a move that proved decisive because it was the Chilean who finally managed to find the equaliser that Barça so evidently deserved. That was in the 70th minute, but the joy was short-lived. Practically from the restart, Cristiano Ronaldo broke free of the Barça defence and stunned the home crowd with a superb finish. It was a cruel blow and as good as destroyed any hope FC Barcelona had of getting the all-important three points. Barça played with all their hearts for the few minutes that were left on the clock, but tonight it was simply not to be. The players were applauded off the pitch, but for the first time in the Guardiola era, Real Madrid have beaten FC Barcelona in a league match.