Suarez, Messi Score as Barcelona Win Festive El Clasico
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi won the Clasico; Real Madrid lost the league.
The champions needed to win this one but are now 14 points behind their great rivals after losing 3-0 and they can have no complaints.
Was it the early kick-off? Was it delayed jet-lag from their trip to Abu Dhabi to win the World Club Cup? Was it Zinedine Zidane’s over-caution? Whatever it was it will be a long second half of the season at Madrid unless they can beat Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League and go for a third straight European Cup.
The surprise in Zidane’s line-up was the destructive Mateo Kovacic coming in for the creative Isco – it gave Madrid’s midfield a ‘dogs of war’ feel. Kovavic and Casemiro would take turns to smother Messi and Sergio Busquets and stop Barcelona playing. It did not work.
Sergio Ramos showed that recently-won Club World Cup to home supporters who unveiled a huge ‘White Christmas’ banner behind the goal; it will be a Blue Chirstmas after this result.
The early kick had taken some of the edge off the atmosphere but it’s never to early for Luis Suarez to complain to a linesman. He was right too when the referee’s assistant flagged him in error in Barcelona’s first attack.
Cristiano Ronaldo was lively early on and he should have scored on 10 minutes when Benzema squared to him in the area but he kicked fresh air instead and Iniesta scrambled the loose ball away injurying himself in the process.
The Spain midfielder recovered but was having trouble getting Barcelona playing. They were knocking it long to Suarez and Messi and it was not long before coach Ernesto Valerde was urging full-back Jordi Alba to move forward and give the team more width.
Barcelona seemed to be waiting for Madrid to take the game to them – it was the home side who needed the points after all – but they came out of their shell on the half hour and so nearly took the lead when Messi clipped a pass over the top and Paulinho didn’t waste anytime getting his volleyed shot away. Navas finger-tipped it away for a corner.
Real Madrid responded immediately with a Ronaldo cross-shot that Marc Andre ter Stegen pushed away for a corner. Messi then crossed and Paulinho’s header was pushed away by Navas. Now the game was warming up.
Benzema was whistled for making the worst of a Real Madrid counter-attack but with Real Madrid’s next attack he flashed a header on to the post from Marcelo’s cross.
The last action of the first half saw Messi hit Ronaldo with a free-kick and then offer him his hand as the two teams went down the tunnel. They had embraced before the game started. It was all a bit too friendly.
In the second half Barcelona found some fight and Real Madrid failed to respond.
First Alba got in behind Real Madrid and Suarez shot the cross straight at Navas. It was a warning and on 54 minutes Barcelona had the lead. Before that Ramos should have been awarded his 25th career red card for Real Madrid when he thumped Suarez but was only cautioned. Suarez got his revenge.
Busquets started the move playing the ball forward to Ivan Rakitic and he sent it wide right to Sergio Roberto. The full-back’s cross found Suarez at the far post and he finished to give Barcelona the lead. Madrid had not reappeared after the interval and soon they were 2-0 behind and with a man less on the pitch.
Messi played in Suarez whose shot was saved by Navas. Suarez hit the post from the rebound and when it came out again Paulinho had the next shot that Carvajal saved with his hand. Paulinho bundled in the rebound but the referee gave a penalty and sent the Spain full-back off. Messi blasted the penalty past Navas and into the roof of the net.
Gareth Bale had been waiting to come on but was sent back to sit-down. Two-nil down and now 14 points behind Real Madrid in the league for some reason Zidane still saw fit to bring on defender Nacho because of the sending off.
Bale and Marco Asensio finally came on with 20 minutes left. Bale was straight into the action and a fine save from Ter Stegen stopped him pulling a goal back. He went close with another shot and suddenly Madrid looked more dangerous but substitute Nelson Semedo then forced a fine save from Navas as Barcelona threatened on the break.
Barcelona found the third in injury time with Aleix Vidal scoring through a crowed penalty area. When time was called it was not just the end of the Christmas Clasico; it was probably the end of Real Madrid’s domestic season.