Real Madrid defeated Barcelona for the second time this season to climb to the top of the La Liga table on Saturday.
It was a lively start to the game, with the visitors having the first sight of goal. Lionel Messi slipped a ball through to Jordi Alba, who tried to find Ousmane Dembele with a low cross but was denied by the left hand of Thibaut Courtois.
But it was not long before Los Blancos launched their first attack, and with that came the opening goal.
Lucas Vazquez was fed the ball after some brilliant work from Federico Valverde, and the Spaniard’s low cross was expertly flicked in at the near post by Karim Benzema.
Not long later, Zinedine Zidane’s men doubled their lead through a slice of luck. Toni Kroos’ free-kick took a huge deflection off Sergino Dest, and Alba could not head the ball away on the line.
The home side were not done and nearly made it 3-0 in the 34th minute. Vinicius Junior found Valverde, whose deflected shot struck the post.
The ball fell back to Vazquez, who appeared to have a tap in, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen recovered to somehow keep it out.
It was a frustrating first half for Barcelona, who came within inches of pulling one back just before the break in extraordinary circumstances. Messi’s corner looped over Courtois and came back off the post.
On the hour mark, La Blaugrana managed to find a way back into the game through an unlikely source. Alba’s cross found its way to Oscar Mingueza, who volleyed home from close range.
The next ten minutes were frantic as Madrid looked to restore their two-goal advantage. Vinicius saw his cross deflect onto the post via Ronald Araujo, and the Brazilian also spurned a great chance after his poor square ball to Benzema was intercepted.
Vinicius was once again involved just moments later when he nodded back to Kroos, who looked poised to score his second. However, the World Cup winner could not direct his header on target, and Mingueza cleared.
Second-half substitute Ilaix Moriba had an opportunity to force an equaliser when Messi’s cross found his head, but the youngster could only direct his header straight at Courtois.
Alba also had an opportunity after fortunately finding himself through on goal, but the left-back poked wide.
The home side had to play the closing stages of the game without defensive midfielder Casemiro, who picked up two yellow cards in quick succession.
The first was for a sliding challenge on Messi in the centre circle, and the other for a follow through on Mingueza just outside the box. Messi stepped up to take the free kick, but it was comfortably saved by Courtois.
Right at the death, Barcelona came desperately close to nicking a point. Clement Lenglet directed a header towards Moriba, who slammed his volley against the crossbar with Courtois completely beaten. This was the final action of the match.
The three points take Madrid to the top of the table for now, although they will drop down a place should Atletico Madrid avoid defeat against Real Betis tomorrow. Meanwhile, Barcelona drop to third, suffering their first league defeat of 2021.
Man of the Match – Toni Kroos
What a week it’s been for Toni Kroos. Just days after his stellar display in the Champions League against Liverpool, the German netted his first ever El Clasico goal. Yes, it was a rather fortunate one, but they all count the same.
It was the type of performance that we’ve come to expect from the former Bayern Munich man over the years. Technically brilliant, composed on the ball, full of invention – the full package.
Madrid still have two major trophies to fight for this season. Should Kroos continue to put in performances like the last two, they will have a great chance.
Obviously, it’s a huge boost for Zidane’s side, who may have been out of the title race had they lost tonight.
It was Madrid’s sixth win in a row in all competitions, and they are still yet to lose since their home defeat to Levante in January.
Up next for Los Blancos is their second leg against Liverpool, followed by games against Getafe and Cadiz. Against the latter, they suffered a shock 1-0 loss at home, so they will be wary of a potential slip up.
For Barcelona, the defeat ends their fine run of form. The Catalan giants had gone 19 games without defeat in the league, winning 16.
Next weekend, they’ll have the opportunity to lift their first piece of silverware in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Back in January, the Basque club defeated Barcelona in the Supercoppa de Espana final after extra time.
Following that, Koeman’s men will face Getafe and Villarreal. It should be interesting to see how they respond to their disappointment at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.