Barcelona Make a Statement at the BernabeuDecember 12, 2011
Barcelona have landed a major blow on bitter rivals Real Madrid, winning 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu. Goals from Alexis, Xavi and Cesc ensured a gutsy comeback and memorable result for Barça after sloppy play by Valdés had gifted Madrid an early goal through Benzema.
Perhaps the only surprise in Guardiola’s lineup was the absence of David Villa, who dropped to the bench – surely a result of the exciting form of Cesc and Alexis in recent weeks. And in some ways the formation was less overtly attacking than expected, with Cesc and the electric Iniesta joining and instigating attacks, but retaining a certain degree of discipline. Alexis was always furthest forward, probing across the frontline, while Messi operated in his deeper central role.
Barcelona got off to a dreadful start; Real Madrid pressed an early backpass to Valdés, and the ‘keeper made a hash of his kick, tamely finding Di Maria on the edge of the area. Busquets made two desperate blocks, but both fell to Madrid players – the second dropped at Benzema’s feet and the striker smashed his easy finish home from five yards with just a minute on the clock.
Understandably, Barça took time to find some composure. There were a few hairy moments for their backline, but it would be Messi who had the next real chance. He seized on a Ramos slip, jinked past Pepe, but saw his low effort saved on the stretch by Casillas. Two chances followed for Madrid – first for Benzema, whose header was well gathered by Valdés; then for a subdued Cristiano who had a close-range opportunity but sliced it wide.
From here Barcelona started to find their feet, keeping possession for longer spells. And by half an hour they were back in the game. Messi was the architect, bursting forward from the halfway line, dodging three tackles and posting Alexis through on goal. Under pressure from Pepe and Coentrão the Chilean found the bottom-right corner with precision.
With Barcelona’s ascendancy continuing into the second half it was probably no surprise that Real Madrid were becoming more forceful in the 50-50s, and the rancour that had plagued last season’s fixtures resurfaced intermittently. Ramos, Alonso, Pepe and Diarra were all booked, as increasingly dangerous tackles started to fly in.
Then, after a period of sustained possession, Xavi lashed a volley on goal from outside the area. Marcelo got a block in, but the ball skewed off his shin and span beyond the despairing reach of Casillas. Real Madrid were finding it increasingly difficult to get forward, but still posed a threat; Cristiano somehow managed to head a cross by Kaka wide from six yards.
The home team was punished almost instantly by a slick counter-attack. Messi set Alves free down the right wing, and Cesc stooped to meet his deep cross at the back-post to take the score to 3-1. There were subsequent chances for both teams, but the result never looked in doubt for Barcelona
1-0 Benzema (min 1)
1-1 Alexis (min 29)
1-2 Xavi (min 52)
1-3 Cesc (min 65)