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Barça had won an incredible FOUR consecutive league games at the Santiago Bernabéu. Today could have been five. But nothing lasts forever. The Catalans might have dominated El Clásico in recent years, but today was Real Madrid’s day.
Barça had very much looked the better side in the first half, but failed to take their chances. After the break, it was Madrid who had the upper hand - and who also had the goals.
When you put 22 of the best footballers in the world on a field together, with all the added magic of the biggest club fixture in the game, the football is always going to be electric.
Both teams always seem to have something extra in the tank for this one, and the action was relentless from the word go. For much of the first half, neither side was the clear dominator, but as the minutes ticked by, Barça began to play more and more of the better football.
Two Frenchmen, Antoine Griezmann at one end and Karim Benzema at the other, had been most active in search of the first goal, but the best chances of the half fell to Arthur, who sped into space but couldn’t find the finish, and Leo Messi, who was defied by Thibaut Courtois in a one-on-one.
On what we had seen so far, there was no sign that Madrid were going to come out for the second half looking so much stronger. But they did. And they were rewarded with two goals that send them back to the top of the table.
It took the very best from Ter Stegen to keep Isco’s curling shot out, Toni Kroos had a pop too, Gerard Piqué frantically cleared off the line, Benzema volleyed just wide…
The Catalans were not comfortable, and the only positive thing was that Real hadn’t turned any of that pressure into a goal.
That was until the 71st minute. Kroos’ pass to Vinicius Jr caught Barça unawares, and the youngster’s strike deflected off Piqué and into the net.
Madrid were fired up. Even when Messi was clear through on goal Marcelo managed to get there in time to retrieve the ball, and maddeningly, a second goal for the home side was probably a lot closer than we were to an equaliser.
But going into the final minutes, it was still just the one goal that split the two. If Barça could find something late, they’d stay two points clear at the top of the table. If they couldn’t Madrid would be taking their place.
Even Ter Stegen was going up for the set pieces. Barça still believed.
But that belief would be frustrated. Deep into injury time, and with his first touch in his first game of the season, Mariano sped into space down the right and slotted neatly between Ter Stegen and the post.
With that, it was all over. Barça’s immaculate winning run at the Bernabéu has come to an end, and they have also surrendered top spot in the league.
But it’s still only March. There’s a lot of football still to be played.
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