The first of meeting in the El Classico between Barcelona and Real Madrid couldn’t have come at a proper time. Both sides had their walking wounded hale and healthy for the match so no side can claim that they were at a disadvantage. In recent weeks, Madrid had claimed the top spot from the defending champions with four wins out of five matches while the latter could only account for two wins in five of their own. Yet only one point set them apart in the Primera Liga standings 28-27.
After coming on from a largely ineffective Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Catalans’ answer to the galactico wave from their blood rivals when he was signed from Italian champs Internazionale in the off-season, proved his million-Euro worth by smashing home a volley from a Dani Alves cross in the 56th minute. That was preceded by a superb stoppage of a Gonzalo Higuain strike and the Catalans went on a quick counter. But the celebration had to be quickly tempered as Barcelona were reduced to ten men when midfielder Sergio Busquets was sent off six minutes later for a handball and the challengers renewed their pace.
Barca’s Pep Guardiola then brought in Lionel Messi for Henry and the move created some chances. Cristiano Ronaldo, sidelined for nearly two months almost got the equalizer in Camp Nou but he fired straight at Victor Valdes who was brilliant in front of the net. French internationalist Karim Benzema replaced the Portuguese striker with 25 minutes left ad had two chances but misplayed them.
Messi, back from a thigh injury, nearly scored a second goal for Barcelona, but like Ronaldo before him, blasted straight at Iker Casillas.
All told, Barcelona looked more impressive as they dominated possession for 62% of the match only to see their fortunes change although not direly when Busquets was booked and sent off. The 1-nil win gives them 2 points ahead of their rivals in the standings and sent a strong message that they own their rivals thus far. And what pains Madrid’s press and their fans is that defiant Catalan cry, “Madrid, cabron, saluda al campeon."