Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two of the most legendary and well-known clubs in the world were separated by just one point at the top of La Liga, with Lionel Messi and friends in pole position. With players like Messi, Suárez, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the attack for the two Goliaths, this game looked destined for a shootout at the Nou Camp.
If you had Jeremy Mathieu opening the scoring Sunday you are smarter than most others, including myself. The big French defender, who was facing a tough test on the other end of the field, found himself on the end of a brilliant Messi free kick in 18th minute to put Barcelona in front. This was Mathieu’s first goal in the massive fixture’s history and that would end up being a trend for the Catalan side.
The lead did not last long, however, as Benzema was able to find the reigning Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo inside the box to equalize for Madrid in the 31st minute. For the remainder of the first half it was all Los Blancos. Bale, who has been on the wrong end of Madrid support for much of the season, thought that he had put his side ahead only to see his strike called back by an offside flag. The Welshman’s struggles continued as he wasted one of the best opportunities of the game putting his shot wide of the frame.
The two sides entered the second half still deadlocked at one goal a piece. It took an outstanding save by Claudio Bravo to deny Benzema at the start of the last 45 mintues to keep the terms level. Just ten minutes into the half, Luis Suárez graced the millions watching with a moment of sheer brilliance as the Uruguayan striker beat his defender and slid his off-balanced shot past a helpless Iker Casillas to score what would be a the decisive goal of the match.
Many Barcelona fans would argue that this goal alone justified the £75 million price tag that brought the former Liverpool man to La Liga in the summer. Suarez has been on an absolute tear as of late, scoring seven goals since Barca’s Round of 16 match at the Etihad against Man City. This may have been the most important goal of the 28-year-old’s career and he also joined Mathieu in opening his El Clásico account.
The result saw Barcelona build their lead over Madrid to four points with ten games left in the campaign. Both of the sides face tough Champions League matches in the coming weeks with PSG coming to the Nou Camp and the Real facing another rival in Atlético. If Carlo Ancelotti is unable to rescue his side’s La Liga dream, fans will expect nothing less than a second consecutive European title. It will take a concerted effort, with players other than Ronaldo needed on the attacking front, but one-third of the BBC may have his days numbered in the capital as Gareth Bale continues to face relentless criticism from fans (it is reported that some supporters attacked his car after another disappointing performance Sunday).