Barcelona Continue Title March After Vital Draw in Madrid

April 17, 2011

FC Barcelona took a huge step towards a third successive Primer Division title after securing a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first of four climatic Clásicos. Pep Guardiola’s team bossed possession and arguably had the best chances, but had to settle for a point after Los Blancos came back from a goal and a man down to win a debatable penalty with ten minutes to go.

Nevertheless, the result leaves Barça in a practically insurmountable position; eight points clear at the top of the table, with a superior head-to-head record against their historic rivals.

Barcelona went into the game with their strongest XI for months, with captain Carles Puyol making a surprise start after recovering from a long-term injury that had kept him out of action since January.

For all of the hype, and column inches in anticipation of a memorable spectacle, the game got off to a relatively subdued start, with play frequently broken by niggling fouls. Both coaches spent much of the opening at the edge of their technical areas marshalling a fraught tactical battle.

The pattern that finally emerged was one of Barcelona dominance, and no little negativity from their opponents; Madrid’s midfield was effectively composed of three holding players sitting tight in front of their defence. It was no surprise that the first chance fell to the Blaugrana team – Iniesta crafted one of his signature looped passes to set Messi free, but the forward saw his lob saved easily by Casillas.

On the half-hour mark Barcelona had a great shout for a penalty when Villa raced onto a through pass after a stylish move, appearing to reach the ball before the Madrid ‘keeper who brought El Guaje to the ground. Referee Cesar Muniz Fernández wave the Barça protests away and even saw fit to book a livid Gerard Pique.

This fortunate escape appeared to stir Real Madrid, who finally began to emerge from their shells. Los Merengues’ best opportunities came via set pieces and the brutal right boot of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward slammed a trademark free kick off Valdes’ right post and had a header saved off the line by the increasingly impressive Adriano.

Yet it was Barcelona who were dictating play. And when the industrious Villa chased another clipped pass over the Real Madrid backline, Raul Albiol clumsily hauled the striker down by his collar – penalty, red card and Messi dispatched the spot-kick to take his tally to 49 and counting.

Puyol was withdrawn with a recurrence of his thigh injury, and Barça opted to slow the tempo, knowing Madrid had to chase the game with ten men. The strategy was paying off until Marcelo took on Alves down the left side of the penalty area. The right back appeared to win the ball with his sliding tackle, but Fernández pointed to the spot to allow Cristiano Ronaldo win a share of the points for Madrid ahead of Wednesday’s cup final.

0-1, Messi (pen, min 52)
1-1, Ronaldo (pen, min 83)

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