Two goals in the first half were the propellant to a Real Madrid victory in the 279th El Clasico over Barcelona and with the three points, Zinedine Zidane’s team went top of La Liga though Atletico Madrid have a game in hand, which they play on Sunday away to Real Betis.

This game had everything with both teams playing to their various strengths. Real Madrid played on the counter while Barcelona dominated the ball possession but were largely curtailed because Zidane started an amorphous shape with Fede Valverde playing more as a right back to ensure Jordi Alba did not have too much space to wreak havoc.

The first goal was a classic counter-attacking move with Valverde as the prompt but Alba should have held his position to curtail the incursion but the finish from Karim Benzema was totally world-class. A backheel that beat Marc Andre ter Stegen all ends up. Vinicius Junior was a nuisance for all 72 minutes he lasted as he continually drove at the Barcelona defence. He won the free-kick from which Toni Kroos’ free-kick was deflected for the second goal.

At that point, Real were cruising and could have scored a third when Vinicius galloped away and cut back for Valverde whose shot beat Ter Stegen but came back off the post. Lucas Vasquez got on the rebound but the Barcelona goalkeeper made a save before the ball was cleared. Vasquez had to go off after a collision with Sergio Busquets. Lionel Messi attempted an audacious corner, which beat Thibaut Courtois but it came off the past as the first half ended.

Ronald Koeman made alterations to his formation in the second half with Antoine Griezmann coming on as Barcelona became more dangerous. Nacho had to be brave and quick to block a Messi goal-bound shot three minutes after the restart.

And then the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. Still, Real Madrid played on the counter and Kroos had a shooting chance in the 53rd minute but he skied his effort. Griezmann should have scored when a pass from Frenkie De Jong got through to him on 56 minutes but he steered his effort just wide off Courtois’ right post. But three minutes later, Griezmann sold a wonderful dummy, which created a chance for Oscar Mingueza, who steered the ball home from 12 yards. Game on!

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Vinicius was sent away again on 66 minutes but he chose the wrong option. He had the chance to shoot but he opted to try and find Benzema but Clement Lenglet recovered enough to clear the danger. Three minutes later, Vinicius inadvertently headed a ball into Kroos’ part but the German midfielder could not steer his header on target.

Zidane made three changes as he sent on, Isco, Marcelo, and Mariano for Kroos, Vinicius, and Benzema. Marcelo blazed over when he should have tested Ter Stegen. Koeman sent on Martin Braithwaite and Trincao in the 81st minute for Pedri and Ousmane Dembele. Alba could have done better when he latched on to a poor touch by substitute Alvaro Odriozola but he shot wide. Barcelona had a shout for a penalty in the 84th minute when Ferland Mendy looked to have had a hold of Braithwaite but the referee waved play on, which incensed the Barcelona players and Alba was booked for dissent.

And then two minutes of madness from Casemiro. The Brazilian was booked in the 89th minute for a cynical foul on Messi and then a minute later he fouled Mingueza for a second yellow and off he had to go.

Four minutes were added on and substitute Ilaiz Moriba hit the crossbar in a frantic finish but Real held on to make it a double over Barcelona and put themselves in a position where they can successfully defend their La Liga title.


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