Real Madrid puts the pressure back on Barcelona

Vinícius Júnior celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Real Madrid against Barcelona in Sunday's El Clásico. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Vinícius Júnior celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Real Madrid against Barcelona in Sunday’s El Clásico. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

A season’s worth of Clásicos produced one postponement and, at length, two goals. 

In the second bout between Real Madrid and Barcelona ⁠— and the last one of the season provided they don’t meet in the Champions League ⁠— Vinícius Júnior and Mariano Díaz’s second-half goals gave Real the 2-0 victory and a fresh claim on first place in La Liga.

The game at Madrid’s Bernabéu was everything the first Clásico at the Camp Nou was not. For starters, it was actually played when it was supposed to be. The other was rescheduled from mid-October to mid-December, following mass protests in the streets of Catalonia over the imprisonment of the leaders of the unsanctioned independence referendum of 2017. That game ended in a dour 0-0, the first stalemate between the blood rivals in 17 years. 

This time around, a rollicking and refreshingly open game was edged by the hosts, who tipped the all-time La Liga ledger back in their favor: 73 victories to 72 for Barcelona. And after failing to win against both Celta Vigo and Levante, Real climbed back into the league lead. 

And as these things go, Barca’s season shall now be framed as being in some trouble, if not all-out crisis after the botched managerial change from Ernesto Valverde to Quique Setien, a social media scandal and the general discontent of superstar Lionel Messi

When you’re Barca or Real, a crisis is easy to come by. The unrelenting demands from fans, directors and media inflate every loss, blip or slump into an existential threat. Whoever had lost here would have suffered this fate. 

After a game that Real Madrid probably edged on the strength of its relative chances, it was Barcelona’s turn to relinquish the league lead for the second time in five matchdays, ending a run of four straight league victories.

Real Madrid finally broke through in the 71st minute, when Toni Kroos unlocked the defense with a devious through ball. Vinícius tore after it and his finish was redirected behind Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen (via beIN Sports):

Barcelona had the game’s first big chance as Jordi Alba cut back for Antoine Griezmann, who skied his finish. Griezmann then launched Arthur, who broke loose but his finish was saved well by Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois

Busquets later found Messi over the top, but the Argentine uncharacteristically hit his finish right at Courtois.

In the second half, Real was the more threatening of the teams in a game devoid of leading forwards on both sides; Barca’s Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele and Real’s Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale are all injured.

After Vinícius’ goal, Barca gave a final spasm as Messi was dispatched by Frenkie de Jong, but a last-ditch tackle from Marcelo ended the visitors’ threat.

And in injury time, Mariano received a throw-in out wide, turned the corner on several defenders and bounced his finish past ter Stegen rather oddly from an acute angle:

The final result was probably a little harsh on Barcelona, which now trails Real by a single point but remains nine clear of third-place Sevilla. And maybe Setien’s attempt to put all the pressure on Real backfired. He’d called it a “key game for them”, which his opposite number Zinedine Zidane summarily undercut by arguing that all games are important.

And now it’s Barca that’s under pressure with 12 games to go, staring down the possibility of a season without trophies of any kind. 

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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