Lionel Messi produced an improbable, brilliant last-second winner to settle a blistering El Clasico in Barcelona’s favour in Madrid this evening.
The hype around El Clasico can lead to anti-climax. These fixtures have been known to descend into a festering mass of play-acting and cynical fouls. Tonight, however, we witnessed a classic El Clasico.
Barcelona trailed their great rivals by three points having played a game more before kick off, so knew a win was vital for them with matches running out. Their form was not good, and their coach Luis Enrique will leave this summer.
Real, unbeaten in 12 prior to kick off, started at pace, and took the lead just before the half hour when Brazilian midfielder Casemiro tapped in from close range after a previous effort struck the post.
Casemiro had been booked by this stage, and was perhaps fortunate not to be sent off before half time. Barcelona’s ire at the decision to reprieve him eased by a sensational equaliser, rolled in exquisitely by Messi after he’d sliced through the home defence in one fluid movement.
The second half initially looked like a tale of two goalkeepers – Germany’s Ter Stegen and Costa Rican Keylor Navas traded improbable stops. It needed a goal of supreme quality to beat them – Rakitic strode infield and provided it with a quarter of an hour left for play. It went like a shell.
That looked to be that, particularly when Sergio Ramos was dismissed for the 22nd time in his career for attempting to snap Lionel Messi’s leg clean off.
But Real weren’t done, and it looked like they had the point they craved when substitute James Rodriguez made the most of tired defending to slam in an equaliser four minutes from time.
That reckoned without Messi. Brilliant Messi. Unbelievably, unfeasibly, the right man in the right place again, two minutes into two minutes of added on time at the end of the game, to crisply finish in the only place Navas couldn’t reach, to win the game with the final kick.
A staggering 92 minutes of football. An absolute privilege to watch. Settled by Messi’s 47th goal of the season, and 500th of his club career.
Still to come
Ramos will be suspended for two of Real’s final six matches. They have Deportivo A, Valencia H, Tony Adams’ Granada Revolution A, Seville H, Celta A and Malaga A with a two-legged European semi-final with Atletico Madrid crammed in there as well.
Barcelona are out of Europe, and have one fewer game to play. They go to Osasuna next, the derby with Espanyol at home, Villarreal H, Las Palmas A and Eibar H.
The game in hand is away at Celta Vigo, and it’s the penultimate game on Real’s list.
Tale of the tape
My goodness. What an absolute pleasure to sit through and watch. Utterly compelling.
Real took the lead on the half hour, Casemiro finishing from close range after Ronaldo hit the post. They’d started the half stronger but Barcelona took no time at all to hit back – Messi equalising after slicing through the home defence with immaculate control and finish at speed.
It looked for a while like the two goalkeepers would steal the show as Navas and Ter Stegen traded a collection of quality saves. But when Rakitic drew his boot back and drilled in from 20 yards with a quarter of an hour left it seemed Barcelona had done it – particularly when Sergio Ramos did his best Sergio Ramos impression with a disgusting tackle on Messi and red card.
Back came Madrid. James Rodriguez perhaps an odd choice to come on, but he equalised from close range off Marcelo’s cross with five to go.
A draw would have suited Madrid, but they allowed themselves to be caught six v three in a skinny two minutes of added time. Messi did the rest. An immaculate finish to win a wonderful match with the final kick.
Nurse, the big tablets please.
Messi, with the last kick of the game, on the end of a six on three counter attack, smacks the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. Just the 47 goals this season so far. What a finish, what a game.
Messi removes his shirt and does a little tour of the ground showing the crowd his name. Booked for overcelebrating – bet this referee’s fun at a party.
Madrid players sink to their knees across the field. An ending the scriptwriters at Dream Team would have dismissed as far fetched.
Asensio shoots at the near post, Ter Stegen turns it aside. Asensio crosses to the far post, Ronaldo miscues his finish. If there’s ever been a game played at a higher pace than this I haven’t seen it. Referee hopefully about to tell us we’re going to have three and a half days of added time.
77 mins Ramos red card
The ninth annual Sergio Ramos brain explosion sees the Spanish international sent off. Inexplicably takes off and tries to hack Messi down with a vile two footed, airborne, wild lunge. All the studs showing. All the studs that have ever been manufactured.
Didn’t even wait for the red card, straight off down the tunnel, offering several Barcelona players and staff out as he goes.
72 mins GOLGOLGOLGOLGOL Real Madrid 1 BARCELONA 2!!!
Rakitic. Edge of the box, turns inside, has a look, sends one fizzing into the far top corner. No saving that one, wouldn’t have got near it with a butterfly net.Barcelona now level with Madrid at the top of La Liga as it stands, with a better goal difference and head to head record. Your move Real.
We’ll have another two minutes added, and it’s Barcelona looking to make the most of it as Messi piles forward. Casemiro fouls him, fairly cynically, and he’s on a booking, which means the entire population of Catalonia is around the referee demanding a red card. Pretty lucky to escape without one, however unedifying the crowd scene is.
32 mins GOAL!!!!!!! Real Madrid 1 BARCELONA 1
That didn’t last long. Messi glides into the penalty area and rolls in the equaliser. Now the top scorer in this fixture’s history, one ahead of Di Stefano.
It’s a beautiful goal, flowing football, hot knife through butter stuff, and Messi’s control and finish was absolutely perfect. First goal in six meetings with Real.
27 mins GOAL!!!!! REAL MADRID 1 Barcelona 0
Casemiro scores from close range and Real are, deservedly, in front.
A cleared corner is lofted back into the far post. There’s a queue of Real Madrid players standing offside but the assistant decides, quite possibly incorrectly, that Ramos is not one of them. He hits the inside of the post but the ball rolls plum for Casemiro to score into an empty net from close range.
Right, well at one end Ronaldo is shooting low and Ter Stegen produces the best save of the game.
But, at the other, Messi is down and, literally, picking his teeth out of the grass. Blood flowing. Marcelo, replays suggest, has caught him flush in the gob with a flying elbow – unusually for this fixture it does look like a genuine accident.
Physio frantically stuffing cotton wool into Messi’s face.
And so it begins. Ronaldo is the first to hit the deck and turn to the referee. Real Madrid want a penalty, officials say no. Replay pending…
Could easily have been a spot kick. Umtiti, on El Classico debut, hung a leg out, got none of the ball, clipped Ronaldo. As we’ve come to expect in this fixture, he did hit the deck very easily though. Our referee this evening is the rather splendidly named Alejandro José Hernández Hernández.
Odd Messi stats
Just the 45 goals in 45 games for Lionel Messi this season – similar record to Alvaro Negredo at Middlesbrough – but his El Classico record isn’t that brilliant of late.
No goals in six meetings and he’s only scored in two of the last dozen games between the two sides – albeit he did bag a hat trick in one of the other two.
Madrid are hunting a La Liga and Champions League double for the first time since the Di Stefano side of the 1950s – 1958 to be precise.
They go into tonight’s match three points ahead of Barcelona with a game in hand. Barcelona have a far better goal difference, and if they win tonight they’ll also have a better head to head record which is how tied teams are separated at the end of the season.
There are five league games to go, and Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has already confirmed he’ll be leaving in the summer. They’re in wobbly form – two defeats and a draw in the last four. Real haven’t lost in a dozen games in all comps.
Bale is back
Headlines for Real Madrid include the return after a two match injury absence for Wales winger Gareth Bale who starts up front with Benzema and some other bloke.
Real: Navas; Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, nacho; Kroos, Modric, Casemiro; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Subs: Casilla, James, Kovacic, Asensio, Morata, Isco, Danilo
Teams are in
The big talking point all week has been whether Neymar would be allowed to play. His red card in the defeat at Malaga (to go with the 15 yellow cards he’s had this season) resulted in a one match ban, extended to three for sarcastically applauding the officials on the way off. Barcelona tried to take their appeal all the way to the Court of Appeal for Sport this weekend but have admitted defeat and he is not playing.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Alcacer
Subs: Cillessen, Denis, Arda, Mascherano, Digne, Gomes, Alena
What is it?
When is it?
It’s on Sunday April 23.
What time is kick-off?
This one starts at 7.45pm BST.
What TV channel is it on?
Sky have the rights to La Liga and will be showing this clash on Sky Sports 1 and HD, with coverage beginning at 7pm. Alternatively, you can follow all the action right here with goal updates and analysis.
What is the team news?
Madrid will be without defenders Pepe and Raphael Varane for the game, while Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale all have question marks over their fitness heading into the weekend.
Barcelona will be without Neymar, who was suspended three games after sarcastically applauding an assistant referee in the loss to Malaga in the league two weeks ago. Full team news to be confirmed.
What are they saying?
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane on Cristiano Ronaldo:
“I don’t know if there’s a category for him. What you see Cristiano doing is really impressive. The goals, the way he finishes them, in such key, important moments,” said Zidane of the No. 7.
“He always knows when there’s an important occasion, he’s going to be there. It is out of any sort of category. There are few players who can to do what Ronaldo has done and we all know that.”
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique:
“It will be difficult to lift my players up after this, but it will be easy to motivate them. We have the best stimulus that any Barcelona fan could ask for which is that we play against our eternal rival. There’s no better place to go than the Bernabeu.
“We have the chance to get back in the fight for La Liga in a six-pointer against the side top of the league. I love being involved at a club as ambitious as this.”
How do things stand in La Liga?