Lionel Messi scored his 500th Barcelona goal with the last kick of the Clasico as the Catalans beat Real Madrid 3-2 to throw the La Liga title race wide open.
The biggest Clasico in years lived up to its billing as Messi’s last-gasp winner capped off a Barca victory that drew them level with Madrid, who thought they had rescued a draw through James Rodriguez after Sergio Ramos was sent off and Gareth Bale went off injured.
Bale had missed Madrid’s last two games against Sporting Gijon and Bayern Munich with a calf injury, but the Welshman was fast-tracked back into Los Blancos’ XI after he proved his fitness in time for the clash.
Barca, on the other hand, made the bold decision of replacing the suspended Neymar with Paco Alcacer, who scored against Real Sociedad last weekend.
The man in charge of proceedings was Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez, who infamously failed to award Barca’s ‘ghost goal’ against Real Betis back in January.
The referee tried his best to let play flow but was guilty of doing so a little too much. Samuel Umtiti tripped Cristiano Ronaldo in the Catalans’ box early on, catching the Portuguese not once but twice, but no penalty was given to Madrid.
The break was then on for Los Merengues as Ronaldo cut in from the right, but his curling shot was straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Messi was forced to leave the pitch after an elbow from Marcelo resulted in an outpouring of blood from his mouth, although the No 10 was okay to continue.
Madrid’s fast start was rewarded with the opening goal as Sergio Ramos’ flicked finish from a corner hit the post, before the rebound was slid home by Casemiro.
However, their lead lasted just five minutes. Messi skipped past Dani Carvajal in the Madrid box, dropped a shoulder and poked a finish past Keylor Navas.
Luka Modric had a piledriver towards the bottom-right corner pushed away by Ter Stegen pushes away, but Los Merengues suffered a blow when Bale stayed down clutching his calf and walked down the tunnel.
Zidane opted to bring on Marco Asensio over Isco, with the former Mallorca starlet’s introduction signalling a switch to 4-4-2, with Toni Kroos operating as a left midfielder.
Messi had two more chances on the stroke of half-time, first hooking Luis Suarez’s cross wide, before failing to hit the target at the far post after Keylor had misguided a corner.
Kroos being stationed on the left allowed the German to shoot at Ter Stegen’s goal with his stronger right foot, and the midfielder curled one on target, which his fellow German tipped around the post.
Marcelo sprung Barca’s offside trap down the left and clipped an inch-perfect cross for Karim Benzema, whose header at the near was stopped from point-blank range by Ter Stegen.
Paco Alcacer found himself totally unmarked in Madrid’s box, with his €30m price tag ready to be repaid, but his toe-poked finish was pushed away by Keylor.
The Costa Rican was everywhere between Madrid’s sticks as he magnificently shuffled to his left to keep out Gerard Pique’s towering header.
Two more chances fell to Ronaldo, but his overhead kick flew well wide, before Asensio was away in the clear down the right and squared for the unmarked Portuguese, but he failed to score from a couple of yards out.
Barca, meanwhile, were beginning to push hard for the winner. Andres Iniesta scooped up a lovely ball for Suarez, but his flicked volley was batted away by Navas.
It was left to Ivan Rakitic, who shifted onto his left foot just outside the Madrid box and curled an unstoppable effort past Keylor.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the hosts as Ramos was shown a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on Messi, although there was little in the way of contact.
Substitute Andre Gomes and Suarez played a devilish one-two, before the midfielder drilled a cross into Pique, whose shot from near the penalty spot was saved by Keylor.
Yet just three minutes after replacing Karim Benzema, a low cross was finished off by an unmarked James Rodriguez in the penalty area to seemingly secure a point for Zidane’s side.
Asensio could’ve won it for Madrid, having broken clear down the right and cutting into the Barca box, but his powerful drive only stung the palms of Ter Stegen.
The Blaugrana looked dead on their knees, despite their man advantage, but one player who defied that description was Sergi Roberto.
The right-back ran almost the length of the pitch with just seconds of stoppage time remaining, before Gomes and Jordi Alba combined to tee up Messi, whose first-time effort squeezed past Keylor to cap off a truly memorable Clasico.
Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona
Casemiro 28, Ramos sent off 77, James 85 (RM) Messi 33, 90, Rakitic 73 (B)
Real Madrid: Keylor; Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro (Kovacic 70), Kroos; Bale (Asensio 39), Benzema (James 82), Ronaldo
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Alcacer (Gomes 70)
Referee: Hernandez Hernandez