Barcelona reignite title challenge with pulsating Clasico victory
There were stunning individual performances on both sides, three penalties, a red card, and somewhere amid it all, a Lionel Messi hat-trick
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates after his spot kick had made it 3-3. Photograph: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Real Madrid 3 Barcelona 4
With seven minutes to go Lionel Messi struck a penalty high into the top corner of the Real Madrid net to complete the scoring in an astonishing match that left the La Liga title race wide open once again.
When the ball hit the net, it meant that a solitary point separates these two great rivals. And yet while the biggest game in Spain concluded with a new leader of La Liga, it was neither of these teams. Atletico Madrid are top.
It was from a left-sided position that Iniesta opened the scoring after just seven minutes. Xavi found Messi and he slotted a nicely weighted diagonal pass into the area in the space behind the right-back Dani Carvajal. Rather than coming inside, Iniesta hit it hard and high across the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net.
Real equalised when Gareth Bale spread the ball wide to Angel Di Maria and his high, swinging cross was met by Benzema. Victor Valdes thought that he had saved the header but could only push it into the corner of the net.
Went to ground
As Madrid’s players made their way back to the halfway line, Di Maria went to ground, as if he had fainted. Soon, though, he was up and running and providing another. This time his cross was from the byline; this time it was clipped in, lower, more softly; and this time Benzema, pulling back, controlled on his right thigh and without letting the ball drop, shifted his body and volleyed in with the same foot.
The control Barcelona had exercised had now vanished. This was already the fastest clasico double from a player in 36 years and it took Gerard Pique to prevent it from being a hat-trick, clearing off the line. Again, Di Maria and Benzema combined; again, Barcelona’s defending in the air was suspect. Just before half-time, Benzema again climbed highest, this time to reach a cross from Carvajal on the right.
It was left to the irrepressible Messi to equalise. Some wonderful footwork set him free and he found Neymar on the penalty spot; the Brazilian was dispossessed but the ball ran free and Messi reacted with astonishing speed. As three men dived in, his shot was in the net. He became the top scorer in the clasico, overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano.
Early in the second half a brilliant run from Bale saw a Benzema shot pushed away by Valdes. A moment later, it was Ronaldo who was running at them. If he was caught by Dani Alves, it appeared to be on the edge of the area but Undiano Mallenco, the referee, gave the penalty from which Ronaldo gave Madrid the lead.
Next it was Messi’s turn. He played a wonderful ball for Neymar to run onto. One on one, Neymar was clipped by Ramos. Mallenco gave the penalty and pulled out a red card for the man who had already been sent off more times than anyone else in Madrid’s history. Messi scored. With seven minutes to go he had another penalty. Again he did not disappoint.