Real Madrid moved top of La Liga with a 2-1 victory over eternal rivals Barcelona in a thrilling Clasico at a rain-soaked Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.
Karim Benzema’s audacious near-post flick and Toni Kroos’ deflected free-kick left Real in control at the break, and Zinedine Zidane’s side should have had more to show for their superiority on the counter, with Federico Valverde rattling the post.
Lionel Messi was denied by the post at the end of the first half as his Clasico goal drought extended to seven matches, but, in monsoon-like conditions, Barca halved the deficit when Oscar Mingueza converted Jordi Alba’s cross after Antoine Griezmann’s clever dummy.
Madrid lost Casemiro to two yellow cards in the space of a minute as Barcelona piled on the pressure in search of a late equaliser but their comeback fell agonisingly short, with substitute Ilaix Moriba’s thunderous effort cannoning off the bar in the final minute of stoppage time.
The defeat brings Barcelona’s 19-game unbeaten run to an end and hands the initiative in the La Liga title race to champions Real Madrid, who are level on points with Atletico Madrid but replace them at the summit by virtue of their superior head-to-head record.
Real Madrid: Courtois (8), Vazquez (7), Militao (8), Nacho (8), Mendy (6), Casemiro (5), Modric (7), Kroos (8), Valverde (6), Vinicius Jr (6), Benzema (8).
Subs: Asensio (5), Marcelo (6), Odriozola (6), Isco (5), Mariano (5).
Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Dest (5), Araujo (6), Mingueza (7), Lenglet (6), Alba (7), Busquets (6), De Jong (7), Pedri (6), Dembele (5), Messi (6).
Subs: Griezmann (7), Braithwaite (5), Trincao (5), Sergi Roberto (6), Moriba (6).
Man of the Match: Toni Kroos.
Real seize initiative in La Liga title race
Before the match, all eyes were on Messi as he matched the injured Sergio Ramos’ record with his 45th Clasico appearance, though it remains to be seen if either or both men have now made their last.
The 33-year-old was soon involved in some encouraging moves as Barca dominated the early exchanges, but they did not manage to test Thibaut Courtois before Benzema struck with 13 minutes gone.
Lucas Vazquez sent in a low cross from the right and Benzema got in front of Ronald Araujo to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at his near post with a backheeled finish.
Barca responded brightly, but Messi’s cross was too high for Ousmane Dembele and again Courtois’ goal was not seriously threatened before the second goal came.
- Federico Valverde replaced Marco Asensio in Real Madrid’s only change from the Champions League victory over Liverpool.
- Ronald Araujo replaced Antoine Griezmann in Barcelona’s only change from the dramatic late win over Valladolid.
Vinicius Junior, instrumental in the midweek win over Liverpool, was brought down on the edge of the area to present Kroos with the opportunity from the set-piece.
The Germany international struck his free-kick well enough but it would go in with the help of a deflection off Sergino Dest, with Alba unable to adjust on the line as he could only help the ball into the net.
Barca were reeling and moments later Valverde turned Vinicius’ cross on to the post before Vazquez shot straight at Ter Stegen on the follow-up.
After Dembele’s claims for a penalty were waved away, it was Messi’s turn to strike a post as his corner beat Courtois, but Barca would go in 2-0 down at the break.
Griezmann replaced Dest at the break, with Mingueza moving to right back, and the move would pay off as Griezmann added attacking impetus and then, on the hour, the former found the net.
As torrential rain lashed down, it was a goal to match the conditions with the full-back failing to make a clean connection after both Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong missed Alba’s cross, though he did enough to bundle it home.
Madrid responded to the setback by striking the post through Vinicius as the game opened up. Barca had another penalty shout with nine minutes left when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down while challenging Ferland Mendy for the ball but despite their furious protests, nothing was given.
There was one more late twist when Casemiro was sent off in the last minute, earning a second booking for fouling Messi, but it did nothing to change the result as Barca’s frustration was summed up by a stoppage-time effort from Ilaix which struck the crossbar.
Analysis: La Liga and Real set for thrilling finale
Real Madrid started the night third in La Liga, behind Barcelona, but they now lead the proceedings after moving top of the table on goal difference ahead of Atletico Madrid, who face Real Betis on Sunday.
It means just one point separates the top three in the title fight as the season heads for a thrilling conclusion.
Madrid have won 15 of their last 20 games in all competitions and are building momentum at a crucial stage of the season both domestically and in Europe.
The victory means Real have won three in a row against Barcelona for the first time since 1978 and caps a stunning week for Zidane’s side after their Champions League quarter-final victory against Liverpool.
Real now go to Anfield to face Liverpool in their Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday at 8pm, leading 3-1 from the first leg, before going to Getafe in la Liga on Sunday at 8pm.
Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday at 8.30pm.