Four years since last winning the Spanish championship, La Liga leaders Real Madrid took a giant stride towards a 32nd national crown with a 2–1 victory away to bitter rivals Barcelona on Saturday night. The result from the latest edition of El Clasico means the men from the capital lead the Catalans by seven points with four games to play.
Four days prior to the Champions League semi-final return against Bayern, Real were set on their way to victory in the 251st meeting between the arch-rivals by Germany international Sami Khedira on 17 minutes, before Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winner after 73 minutes. Three minutes earlier, the 90,000 at Camp Nou had erupted when sub Alexis Sanchez levelled for the home team.
No change to starting line-up
“It's an important win, but nothing’s decided yet," commented Real midfielder Xabi Alonso afterwards, “but it's a fantastic result and we're delighted." Assistant coach Aitor Karanka, standing in at the post-match press conference for boss José Mourinho, joined in the warning: “It's not over yet, there are lots of points still to play for."
Mourinho made no changes to the team which started last Tuesday's Champions League clash in Munich. For Barca, defeated 1–0 by Chelsea in their European semi-final first leg, coach Pep Guardiola brought in Thiago and Tello for Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas.
The visitors from the Spanish capital were first to settle against the surprisingly nervous home side, whose feared and admired short passing game failed them for long spells on this occasion. Real worked hard and effectively, taking the lead with their first clear-cut chance when Victor Valdes failed to deal with Pepe’s header from a corner and Khedira poked the loose ball over the line.
As in every game they play, Barcelona had much the better of the possession but struggled in vain to prise apart Madrid's packed defence. The best chance before halftime fell to Xavi from Lionel Messi’s precise pass, but Madrid and Spain keeper Iker Casillas made the save.
Barcelona upped the tempo after the break but Tello and Xavi missed presentable chances. The equaliser finally arrived when Sanchez, seconds after coming on as a substitute, bundled the ball into the net from close range following a goalmouth scramble. However, Real's devastating response was delivered just three minutes later when Mezut Ozil released Ronaldo to blast home his 42nd league goal of the campaign.
The response took the wind out of the home side's sails, and Karim Benzema and Ronaldo could easily have made it a bigger margin of victory. Real finished as worthy winners, earning congratulations afterwards from Guardiola “on winning the match and the championship."
Real Madrid line-up against Barcelona:
Casillas - Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao - Xabi Alonso, Khedira - di Maria (Granero 73), Özil (Callejon 89), Cristiano Ronaldo - Benzema (Higuain 90+3)