Soaked and defeated Barcelona was beaten 2-1 by Real Madrid in the rain in the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. Zinedine Zidane’s side had done to them what they had done to Liverpool four days earlier and are now at the top of La Liga.
The players were so drenched in Madrid’s exposed training ground stadium that Lionel Messi took advantage of a stop for the referee 10 minutes before the end to replace his soaked communication equipment, changing both shirt and undershirt.
Barcelona hoped that their drenched superhero, who had changed outfits, would now be able to pull at least a point from the jaws of defeat. But aside from a late free kick that Thibaut Courtois saved, it never seemed to be his night.
Real Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga after a 2-1 win in El Clasico on an extremely rainy night in the Spanish capital.
Karim Benzema opened the score against Barcelona with a nice almost post-flick from the perfect pass from Lucas Vazquez
Toni Kroos then doubled the lead after his free kick from Sergio Busquets was deflected, and Jordi Alba couldn’t head it away.
Barcelona came back in the second half and cut the lead when Oscar Mingueza shone Alba’s measured cross.
Real Madrid (4-1-4-1): Courtois; Lucas Vazquez (Odriozola 43), Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Casemiro; Valverde (Asensio 61), Kroos (Isco 72), Modric, Vinicius (Marcelo 72); Benzema (Mariano 72)
Substitutes: Lunin, Rodrygo, Altube
Goals: Benzema 13, Kroos 28
Barcelona (3-4-2-1): have Stegen; Mingueza, Araujo (Moriba 72), Lenglet; Dest (Griezmann 45), Busquets (Roberto 64), by Young, Alba; Messi, Pedri (Trincao 81); Dembélé (Braithwaite 81)
Substitutes: Pique, Pjanic, Puig, Umtiti, Firpo, Pena, Tenas
Target: Mingueza 60
Booked: Araujo, Alba, Pedri
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano
Substitute Ilaix Moriba cracked the bar from an injury-time corner for which Marc Andre ter Stegen had moved forward, but Madrid, despite Casemiro being sent for two quick, late yellow cards, held on.
Their appearance in the first half had won them the game. Barcelona had responded to the goals of Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos with a goal from Oscar Mingueza, but the home team took the points.
The game started at a furious pace. Messi played Jordi Alba by the byline and Courtois had to get an outstretched arm to his crotch, otherwise Ousmane Dembélé would have handed it in.
Lucas Vazquez immediately got to the byline for Madrid by winning a corner kick that put Toni Kroos on Casemiro’s head, but Ronald Araujo made it clear.
It was hectic until the moment the deadlock was broken. Messi thought he had made a mistake by Lucas on the edge of the area, but there had been no contact and as the game went on Madrid came forward to score. Valverde led the attack, feeding the ubiquitous Lucas who crossed over to Benzema.
He was followed closely by Araujo who was well positioned on the goal side – it didn’t matter as with a flash from his right heel he shot the ball just inside the front post of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
It was Benzema’s 10th goal in 36 Clasicos and arguably his brightest. Barcelona did not react well with Pedri and Araujo both booked for errors. Araujo’s offense gave Madrid a free kick on the edge of the area from which Kroos scored the second.
His shot bounced off the back of Sergino Dest, who had turned when the free kick landed on him. Alba on the line was also hit when the ball flew into the back of the net.
Barcelona tried to withdraw a goal, but Dembélé went wrong in the area. He looked like he was going to have one of those nights, on THE most important night of the season. Every time Madrid flowed forward, they threatened. Vinicius raced away again and Valverde hit the post from his pass. Ter Stegen saved well from Lucas. Barcelona threatened to disappear from the game before half-time and Antoine Griezmann was already warming up.
In the now heavy rain, Lucas broke the knees with Sergio Busquets in a thunderous sliding collision and the Madrid man had to get off to be replaced by Alvaro Odriozola.
That aside, it had been the perfect half for Madrid, with Messi locked in a three-walled cell made up of center-backs Nacho and Eder Militao and deep-lying midfielder Casemiro protecting them.
Messi has escaped from that prison twice in the extra two minutes. First he hit the post directly from a corner and then shot right at Courtois after Dembele’s corner had run towards him.
Casemiro saw red for a second bookable offense after a pollution of Mingueza, reducing the hosts to 10 men for extra time
Then, right at death, a free kick found its way to substitute Ilaix Moriba, whose volley crashed into Madrid’s crossbar.
Except for a late free kick that saved Courtois, it never looked like Lionel was Messi’s night in the pouring rain in Madrid
Madrid lost improvised right back Lucas Vazquez to injury in the first half after strong sliding challenge from Sergio Busquets
Ronald Koeman changed things at half time by leaving the back three and replacing right-back Dest with Griezmann. The rain intensified and players and referee Jesus Gil lost their balance as the game went from one end to the other. The rain was in the face of Barcelona as they worked their way back into the match, but they found it on the hour.
Alba led from the left, Griezmann dummied, and Oscar Mingueza finished the best he could by hanging out one leg and sending a clumsy but very effective shot past Courtois.
Barcelona’s 4-3-3 left fewer places, but Modric and Vinicius combined to find one and Araujo just got a toe for his pass before reaching Benzema.
Barcelona were also adamant they should have been given a penalty after Ferland Mendy’s tug on substitute Martin Braithwaite
Ronald Koeman, however, had to watch his team throw away the chance to get to the top of the LaLiga stand.
For Barcelona, Dembele was now much happier flying to the right and there was a little more room for Messi who sent a free kick against the wall. With 20 minutes to go, Kroos, Benzema and Vinicius were all sent away with Isco, Mariano Diaz and Marcelo approaching. Marcelo ran on, holding up three fingers. Mendy would now play as the third center-back and Marcelo, who played as a left-back, would help him deal with Dembele.
Ilaix and Sergio Roberto had entered the field for Barcelona and the former headed Messi’s cross only for Courtois to save.
Barcelona surrounded the referee when Mendy Martin Braithwaite fired on the byline as the ball passed them both. He exaggerated contact, but neither the referee nor VAR were moved to give them a penalty.
Madrid have now put in their two best performances of the season in the most important week of the campaign. Atletico Madrid can win on Sunday and take first place again, but Madrid looks stronger than the rest with eight games left.
Madrid owed Courtois a few times and led the ball away from Alba after Mingueza tied the score.