It was a Clasico of the ages to reopen the title race in La Liga as a battered and bruised Leo Messi burns down the Bernabeu with brace
It’s tough to add more adjectives to what the little guy did last Sunday. Lionel Messi once again proved that he’s amongst the greatest players in history, in a rousing performance that netted two goals and a monster gravitas in the biggest game in the world (2-3). He’s just too much for any team to handle. It would be impossible to list all his plays, his huge influence in every move his team made. He casts his shadow on almost everything. He was God-like. He was the best.
The game began with a dominant Real, while the Argentinean was hit hard in many ways, with Casemiro as Zinedine Zidane’s main heavy-hitter with several strong tackles and a terrifying elbow by Marcelo, that left Messi bleeding and with a black eye. He was not ready to surrender, though: Barça’s number ten quickly answered after Madrid’s opener (1-0, Casemiro himself) to equalize with a screamer.
The best was yet to come. The game soon romped in the mud, with often ill-advised tackles and dirty antics in the midfield. With Cristiano Ronaldo absolutely missing on all fronts, Casemiro should have been sent off several times after getting booked in the 12th minute, but he got away with it.
Barça was far from stellar, but Ter Stegen emerged as an awesome block of resistance for Real’s humungous attacking efforts. In the opposite goal, Keylor Navas put in just as stellar a performance. Both keepers were sensational.
The second half provided some of the best entertainment of the season, albeit football remained out of the spotlight as both teams were severely undermined by a lack of coherent football style. In fact, many times they switched completely their roles: Barça waited to launch counter-attacks while Madrid opted for a more possession-oriented tactical approach. Physically, both sides struggled to reach the final minutes of the game.
With Gareth Bale out of the picture (started the game, left early with physical problems), Zidane tried to heat things up by inserting James Rodríguez and Marco Asensio into the game. The ruckus settled once Ivan Rakitic again pulled Barça ahead with a fantastic strike from outside the box, a damned missile launched from his left foot that swayed way far from Navas’ reach. Barça was about to do it: in fact, things looked even brighter after Sergio Ramos’ disgraceful two-foot tackle on Messi which earned him a deserved red card.
Madrid’s captain left the pitch pointing his finger at Gerard Piqué, another player who has bitterly complained about refs this season. Both are comrades and rivals at the same time, but the fact is that Madrid seemed knocked down and handicapped with one man down… until another Marcelo dribble on the left wing ended with his devious cross and Rodriguez’s one-touch finish at the near post.
The draw was glorious for Real, as it allowed them to keep the three-point advantage with one game more remaining against Celta. However, Zidane’s poor tactical reading of the situation ultimately proved the underdoing for his team. His players, with the Bernabeu stadium’s legend of comebacks steaming from the stands, tried pressing Barça’s defense.
Then, it happened. Sergi Roberto, utterly destroyed by Marcelo for most of the game, ran the run of his life. His charge forward surprised a tired, puzzled Real. He penetrated deep into Madrid’s side of the pitch life a butter knife. He opened the play to André Gomes, who in turn passed the ball for Jordi Alba’s run. Then, Alba’s tame cross was magnetically pulled towards Messi. He’s just that relevant to the game. He’s just that amazing. The number ten aimed and fired. 2-3 it was.
Messi’s celebration, holding up his shirt and showing it to the stands, is the perfect metaphor of football nowadays: a match this huge between such strong teams can be exciting, thrilling and heart-stopping… but when the little guy is inspired, the only response is to stand and clap.
Ganso is alive and well after two goals in Sevilla’s return to form
With Tony Adams’ Granada acting as one of the easiest sparring partners ever, Paulo Henrique Ganso scored twice and put quite the performance in front of his fans (2-0). A win that will allow Jorge Sampaoli’s men to put their doubts aside while they chase a Champions League spot. Meanwhile, Granada looks dead and buried.
Horrible performance away from a disappointing Valencia
After a four-game unbeaten streak, Voro González’s Valencia CF came crashing down in a horrible morning against Malaga (2-0), in a game which showed clearly how his players pressed hard to reach 40 points and securing a spot far away from relegation… and that’s it.
Fans expected much more, and heavily criticized such an appalling loss against a local side which only needed a couple of strikes by Recio and Sandro to snatch the three points. However, next week Valencia may have the chance to redeem itself, as they will visit the Santiago Bernabeu in a showdown against a wounded Real with La Liga on the line.
Real Sociedad keeps putting pressure on Athletic Club
A huge win against Deportivo La Coruña (1-0) allowed Eusebio Sacristan’s men to end Sunday in front of their Basque frenemy Athletic Club and sitting comfortably on the 6th spot in the standings. Willian José scored and handed the three-points to his team, in a tight race that will surely last until the last game.
Osasuna and Sporting both die in a life-or-death game
Both teams stand in the lower end of the standings and needed a win desperately to keep alive their chances of avoiding relegation. Their draw (2-2) in a thrilling match ultimately leaves Osasuna rock bottom and a couple of games away from mathematically sinking to the Segunda Division and Sporting still four points away of escaping from the bottom three spots in the league.