Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
If you had predicted that a French International would get the winner in tonight's El Clasico, most people would automatically look to Karim Benzema. Not Barcelona fans, oh no, Eric Abidal had plans of his own. When he snook in behind Altintop midway through the second half and latched onto a sublime ball over the top from Lionel Messi, he look as assured as any striker in Europe, slotting home what turned out to be the match winner.
Iker Casillas's face after picking the ball out of the net told the story of this night. A look of dejection, a look of resignation that another chance to get one over on Barca had gone whistling by. It genuinely looked as though the Spanish number 1 could indeed break out in tears. It had all started so well.
Before the game Mourinho had gone with a team that he believed was fit for the occasion. Not necassarily putting out all his talented footballers, he was to put out a team that was capable in his view of beating Barca and sticking to his tactics. Ricardo Carvalho returned for his first start since September, Hamit Altintop chosen at right back which moved Ramos inside, allowing Pepe to hold in midfield with Lassana Diarra and Xavi Alonso. Barcelona on the other hand, were not changing their team for anyone, they put out the team that would beat anyone on the planet, never mind just Real.
Real started brightly as they did in the previous meeting between the two. Harrasing the passing style of Barca and breaking well, they looked up for it. In particular, Cristiano Ronaldo looked to have a bee in his bonnet, defending in not usually his glowing attribute, but regularly tracked back to win possession and help out his defense. Not long into the game, Benzema played a lovely ball around the back of Barca's defense in which caught Dani Alves out, Ronaldo picked it up 30 yards out, running to the box, one step over and bang, the ball driven straight through a wanting Pinto in goal. Real were one up, Ronaldo looked on it, what could go wrong? I honestly can not understand how so many teams have not got it right with Lassana Diarra. He is the type of footballer who would just ruin your day as a midfielder, he is truly excellent on his day and kept Xavi relatively quiet throughout the half. Alexis Sanchez's delicious header almost made it level pegging, latching onto a great pass from Cesc Fabragas (14 goals from 18 starts), the header just hit the crossbar and fell to Ramos. Barca grew into the half, their passing range became better and only for Andres Iniesta's poor attempt at wrapping his foot around the ball, it could have been 1-1. Real went in 1 up, but you could see Barecelona were finding their feel, and a goal was inevitable.
They didn't have to wait long after the break to get the equalizer, a momentary lapse of concentration from Pepe allowed a determined Puyol get onto a Xavi corner and see his diving header rocket into the bottom corner. Barca continued to dominate more and more, an inch perfect pass from Fabregas to Iniesta almost resulted in the second, only for his effort to cannon of Ramos and off the top of the post. Ronldo had changed wings midway through the half and was not getting as much of the ball, when he did, he looked dangerous but he possibly should have stayed down Dani Alves's side. It all got rather typical El Clasico at some points, imaginary cards, player pretending to be hurt, Pepe breaking every rule under the sun etc etc. Pepe possibly could have seen red when he appeared to stand on Lionel Messi's hand late in the half, it was deemed as an accident, it probably wasn't in fairness. Altintop is not particularly used to playing at right back, this showed when Messi found time to place the ball over the Real defense and into Eric Abdial's path, in which he took it down and nicely place his shot into the bottom corner with the outside of his left boot.
From there on it looked a done deal. Barcelona will go into the second leg not only with 2 away goals and the lead, but also with the confidence that Real look a beaten team. Lionel Messi was extremely quiet, but yet set the winner up. You would feel it not possible to keep him as quiet come the second leg, which is something Real will fear. One thing Madrid can take from this is the effect Ronaldo had on the game, he showed a real desire in the first half, something he is criticized for against the bigger teams, hopefully he can build on this. All in all, Barcelona look set to knock Madrid out of another competition, and will be hoping this can affect the race for La Liga also.