Barcelona wins El Clásico and widens gap with Real, also sees Cruijff’s widow
In a largely tame El Clásico, FC Barcelona took a big step toward the national title in Spain against pursuer Real Madrid. The Catalans beat the rival from the capital 2-1 through a goal by Franck Kessié in injury time.
With the win, the difference between the La Liga frontrunner and the number two is now 12 points.
The duel between Barça and Real did not break loose until well after halftime, when Madrid realized it had to come out on top at 1-1. For a while it looked like Madrid would go home with three points after a final offensive, but Marco Asensio’s goal ten minutes before time did not count because of offside. Moments later, substitute Kessié did score the winning goal.
Toward the end, things got a little unfriendly for a while, and some pushing and shoving also took place after the final whistle, but referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea, just a dentist in Bilbao during the week, had a fairly carefree evening.
Danny and Pep
For a long time, the finest moment of the 253rd El Clasico was something that took place in the stands shortly before kickoff. Pep Guardiola greeted Danny Cruijff, the widow of the man who shaped the Manchester City manager as a footballer and trainer, with a heartfelt hug.
Barcelona, without the injured Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé, began with what looked like a total overthrow of the Madrilenians. A flare from Robert Lewandowski went straight for the top corner after two minutes, but Thibaut Courtois paid attention. The Flemish goalkeeper also saved a Raphinha header moments later.
Lively De Jong
Frenkie de Jong was lively in that phase with the ball at his foot, fiercely chasing off when the ball was lost, just like the rest of the Catalans. But when Madrid converted, Barça proved a lot less confident.
It was watchful every time Vinicius Junior got the ball. Barca coach Xavi, judging by the success from the previous Clasico’s, had this time again drafted the tall Ronald Araujo as right back to stop the left-wing Brazilian. That went well for only nine minutes.
Vinicius dribbled free on the back line and delivered a cross that flew into the goal via Araujo’s head just behind Marc-André ter Stegen. Despite the capital foe’s early lead, it seemed to bring no fire to the Catalan team.
Playing at home against Madrid, surely that is the game of the season for the Catalans, but that did not shine through. It was tame and El Clasico even languished a bit toward halftime. Yet in the final minute, Barça suddenly revived. Barcelona pumped the ball several times into the Madrid sixty, until it fell at the feet of Sergi Roberto: 1-1.
After halftime, it was a different story. Real Madrid had to come out, after all, the gap with leader Barcelona was nine points. The Madrid players played soccer a little further away from their goal, creating more space all over the pitch.
The game became more dynamic, but also more sloppy, and chances arose back and forth. Such as a misplay by substitute Rodrygo, an acrobatic half-turn by Lewandwoski, a pressed shot by Raphinha, once again Lewandowski after a subtle cross from De Jong, a hospital ball by Vinicius and a slider by Karim Benzema caught by Ter Stegen.
In Madrid, ten minutes before time, they must have secretly started dreaming of the national title again, because with Asensio’s goal, after a cross from Carvajal, and with it the win, the gap had suddenly been only six points again. That joy was only short-lived, because according to VAR, Asensio had been offside with a shoulder.
Deep into injury time, in minute 92, Kessié’s nick did count, making the title race in Spain just a little less exciting.