One of the biggest rivalries (if not the biggest rivalry) in all of sports was renewed on Sunday as Barcelona took on Real Madrid in El Clasico. Per usual, this clash between two of the most famous clubs in the world had serious title implications, as Real held on to a narrow three-point lead atop the table. A win for Barça at the Santiago Bernabeu would move them level on points with their bitter rivals, but as always that would be easier said than done.
Both sides started the match with pacy attacking play, and even without Neymar in the lineup, Barça looked lively in the final third.
In the 28th minute, the home fans finally got what they wanted to see as Casemiro opened the scoring with a close-range tap-in. After Sergio Ramos’ initial shot banked off the woodwork, the Brazilian midfielder was completely unmarked in front of an empty net. It may have been one of the easiest goals of Casemiro’s career, but all that really mattered was that it put Real ahead with a one-goal lead.
The lead didn’t last long for the hosts, however, as Lionel Messi leveled the scores five minutes later. The Argentinian danced past two Real defenders before slotting past Keylor Navas to make it 1-1. The strike was Messi’s 499th goal for the club, and it wouldn’t be the last time he influenced the match.
Casemiro and Messi’s goals would be the only significant action of the first half as the two sides entered the intermission deadlocked at 1-1.
Madrid started the second half out on the front foot, and if it wasn’t for a kick save and a beauty from Marc-Andre ter Stegen on Karim Benzema’s close-range effort, they would’ve been back in the lead.
Despite Real’s early dominance in the half, Barcelona would quickly find themselves back in the mix with Luis Suarez testing Navas on several occasions. Through the opening 70 minutes of the match, it was hard to decide which goalkeeper deserved man of the match more, with both of them producing world class save after world class save.
In the 73rd minute, we finally got another goal. Ivan Rakitic delivered an absolutely stunning curled strike from 20 yards out to find the far-side netting. Rakitic’s shot left Navas completely helpless as the ball nestled into the back of the net to give Barça a 2-1 lead.
Things went from bad to worse for Madrid just four minutes later as they were reduced to ten men. A crunching tackle from Sergio Ramos on a streaking Lionel Messi was deemed deserving of a straight red card from the official, and now Real found themselves with a near insurmountable mountain to climb.
In the 85th minute, Real did the unthinkable and leveled the scores once again. This time, it was James Rodriguez who delivered the final touch. A cross from Marcelo on the left wing was finished off by the Colombian at the near post past ter Stegen, and suddenly Madrid found themselves back in business.
With all things considered, a draw was hardly the worst-case scenario for Real, and it would’ve kept them firmly atop the table. Unfortunately, for the home fans, Messi’s day wasn’t quite done.
In the final minute of stoppage time, a surging run from Sergi Roberto sparked a Barcelona counter attack. The move ended with Jordi Alba finding Messi at the top of the penalty area, and the little magician hit a picture perfect shot past Navas to seal a famous 3-2 win with his 500th goal for the club.
Perhaps more famous than his goal will be his celebration. Standing defiantly in front of Madrid fans holding his Barcelona Jersey out for the world to see.