Barcelona have clawed their way back to the summit of La Liga with one of the most high quality El Clasico’s seen in a long while.
While Lionel Messi will claim an enormous portion of (deserved) plaudits for two excellent goals, part of the analysis will view Real Madrid as having shot themselves in the foot. Certainly with a first La Liga trophy since 2013 within touching distance.
Luis Enrique’s Catalan’s have taken much criticism this year as they have sat behind Real Madrid for much of the seasons title race, and were knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Juventus, in a campaign which included a humiliation in Turin and at Paris St-Germain in the last 16. For the first time in several years, they arrived at the Bernabeu as underdogs, with Real riding high and having home advantage.
Messi chose an ideal time to put in one of his best performances this season, but critics will take a less than enamouring view of his part in Ramos’ sending off.
To look at it from a distance, the Real captain goes in at speed, two footed, and at considerable leverage, and some might consider it justice when the red card was produced. Certainly the contact made was not enough to cause Messi serious injury, as the Argentine’s reaction seemed to indicate.
Nonetheless, Ramos chose completely the wrong game to commit to a risky challenge such as this. Not for the first time either, has Ramos been forced from the field against Barcelona, this being the fifth time a red card has been shown to him.
Ramos’ inability to keep a cool head in the midst of a contest of such magnitude has often been the undoing of Real Madrid. This game was Real’s to lose at the start. By the 70th minute, Los Blancos were 2-1 down, struggling against a seemingly possessed Messi. Even after James Rodriguez equalised, Real were always looking unsteady once their captain was dismissed.
Where Messi shone, his heavyweight counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo was so thoroughly wasteful on his turf. Despite demanding the ball in attacking areas, and providing his usual attacking prowess, the final touch was missing. When it was so vital that the final touch be present, Ronaldo could not provide. Nor could Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale.
This was always going to be a defining game in the La Liga title race. On the back of Barcelona’s previous performances and their goalless exit from the Champions League, Real were the favourites. Against Barcelona, all it takes is a slip, and unfortunately for Zinedine Zidane and co. they have allowed their rivals back into the race.