Saturday December 3 2016
Blancos grind down Barca

Daryl Hammond looks back at Saturday afternoon’s Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, which saw Los Blancos rewarded for their resilience.

Where would Real Madrid be without Sergio Ramos’ 90th-minute headers, eh? For all the skill, guile and flair of the players that they and Barcelona boast, both goals came as the result of headers from free kicks.

An unusual kick-off time for the fixture, what was witnessed by most the world (barring the UK) was an unusual, but increasingly-normal Clasico.

For so long, this fixture has produced feisty, intoxicating affairs. Since Zinedine Zidane has taken charge, things have quietened down – much to the benefit of his side.  Less end-to-end football and more midfield battles.

Luka Modric anchored the middle of the park superbly, making tackles and interceptions while still proving a creative force, putting the ball on a platter for Ramos to score from. Meanwhile, Sergio Busquets produced a classic performance in the same role, with late substitute Andres Iniesta producing a much-needed creative spark.

Last season, Barca’s record unbeaten run was brought to a grinding halt by Madrid in Zidane’s first Clasico, so they would have been eager to inflict the same pain on their bitter rivals and break a 32-match run without defeat. And with less than 10 seconds of regular time on the clock, it seemed they would.

Even after Ramos’ header, there was still time to win it were it not for Casemiro’s headed clearance on the line to deny Sergi Roberto. Lucky, perhaps, but Zizou’s Madrid know how to not lose.

It’s been a while since Madrid have gone into this fixture the favourites, but it speaks not only to their resilience this season. There’s also Barca’s inconsistency, judging by the recent live football data on their performances.

This victory could have been exactly what Barca needed. Confidence has been a commodity in recent weeks around Camp Nou after last week’s draw against Real Sociedad. Cutting Los Blancos' lead in half, as well as bragging rights, would have done nicely for Luis Enrique’s boys. Instead. they have drawn their fourth match in five and remain off the pace.

For Madrid, however, this is an important milestone in their season. They have played both Barca and Atletico Madrid away from home and not lost to either. Thanks to Sevilla’s loss earlier in the day to Granada, they are six points clear at the top, even if it wasn't their most inspired performance.

Neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi had the desired effect on the match, though not through want of trying. Ronaldo was denied twice in the first half by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while Messi failed to do justice a sublime and incisive pass from Iniesta as he fired it wide.

Now the Argentine has failed to score in the last six Clasico’s, and when he can’t affect a game in that way, he needs the other members of MSN to chip in. They did, with Neymar’s free-kick setting up Suarez for the opening goal, but the Brazilian missed a gilt-edged second-half chance to put the match to bed.

It wasn’t all down to the players as referee Carlos Clos Gomez had some match-defining decisions to make, the earliest and perhaps biggest error being Javier Mascherano’s tackle on Lucas Vazquez in the box that was waved away.

True, Los Blancos needed a last-gasp header to tie the match, and Barca will feel they were robbed of a victory. It is difficult not to in those circumstances, but Enrique will know there’s room for improvement. There always is.

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