Messi scored a thunderous brace as Barcelona beat Real Madrid 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu to take the title race down to the wire. Casemiro and James Rodriguez scored for Madrid, while Rakitic joined Messi as the other scorer for Barcelona.
Both teams created plenty of chances in the first half. Ronaldo looked to have been tripped inside the penalty area in the third minute, but no penalty was awarded. Casemiro scored the opener in the 28th minute as Ramos’ shot bounced off the post in the path of Casemiro, who put the ball into the empty net. Messi, who was using a cotton wrap to stop his nose bleeding after an apparent elbow from Marcelo, controlled the ball beautifully before putting the ball past Keylor Navas to draw the game level.
The second half also commenced with a similar intensity. Both teams came close to finding the breakthrough many times, but some superb displays from both Keylor Navas and Ter Stegen helped keep the tie in balance. It was in the 73rd minute that Rakitic scored a sensational long-range goal that rattled past an otherwise brilliant Navas. He tried hitting with his right foot, but skilfully shifted it onto his left, beat Kroos and Nacho in the process, and then unleashed a rocket with his weak foot. Barcelona were on course to take the three points, but there was still a bit of drama left. Ramos got sent off for a ridiculous lunge on Messi. James Rodriguez, who had just come on for Benzema, then scored a goal out of nowhere. He completed a semi-circular run in the box to lose his marker, and then put Marcelo’s cross easily into the net.
Madrid looked to have sensationally won a point even with ten men, but Messi had other ideas. He scored a sublime goal in the final seconds of the game to win it for Barcelona. His strike ultimately was the final kick of the match as time ran out for the hosts.
With this win, Barcelona are now on top of La Liga on goal difference, having played a game more than their counterparts.
Here are the Major Talking Points from the Match:
Bale Risk Backfires
It was clear from Bale’s awful performance that he wasn’t ready for such a high-intensity game after his injury. He skied many chances, and his crosses were dreadful. He appeared to have reinjured his calf and came off for Asensio. Just as Asensio came into the fray, it was clear that his quality had been missing, and he should’ve started ahead of Bale. Zidane’s decision to push Bale could now come back to haunt him as it’s now unclear how much he’s aggravated his calf injury.
Messi again proved why he’s considered one of the best players ever, as he probably scored the goal that resuscitated Barça’s championship dream. Both of his goals were simply stunning, and gave an otherwise brilliant Navas no chance. He stayed on the pitch even after a nose bleed, and proved why he’s considered inhuman as he still managed to dribble easily past the Madrid defence in that sort of condition. His goals now take his season tally to 50, and he’s clearly the frontrunner for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Shocker for Madrid Stars
Many Madrid players had a shocker. Ronaldo couldn’t match his arch-rival Messi, as he utterly wasted three clear cut chances to score what could’ve been crucially decisive goals. Ramos, too, had a night to forget as his rash lunge on Messi resulted in his sending off, which changed the dimension of the game. Bale and Modric were also awful, and Marcelo had a mixed game. He assisted Madrid’s second goal, but was heavily at fault for Messi’s winner. Madrid’s best player on the pitch was probably Carvajal, who didn’t put a foot wrong.
A Tale of Two Keepers
Marc Andre Ter Stegen took the plaudits in the first half, while praise was heaped on Navas in the second half. Ter Stegen made some brilliant saves from long range efforts from Ronaldo, Carvajal and Modric. He kept his team in the tie by not conceding a second goal before the response. Navas, on the other hand, made a couple of mind-boggling saves from Pique, by saving two clear cut goal chances from point blank range. Both keepers weren’t at fault for any of the five goals scored. If one was a tiger, the other was a lion.
Title Race Back On
With this win, Barcelona go top of La Liga on goal difference, albeit with a game more than Madrid. With a clearly difficult run in for Real Madrid, it looks like this game could prove to be the ultra-trump card played by Barça. Madrid can still go top with a win in their next match, but they’re not the title favourites anymore, as Barcelona have a history of snatching the title from their arch-rivals in the final few matches.