Messi has final say in thrilling Clasico
Catalans climb above their rivals at top of the table after breathless game Madrid had come from behind to score late equaliser after Ramos red card
The very last kick of the Clásico could not have been more perfectly executed, nor more significant, Lionel Messi guiding the ball inside the post and carrying his team to the top of the table. Just when it seemed that all was lost, there may be life in the La Liga title race after all; there may be life in Barcelona too. With five games to go, Barcelona are leaders on head-to-head goal difference, and although Real Madrid have a game in hand, nothing feels impossible now.
Just 30 seconds earlier, it had done. James had scored with five minutes to go, seemingly earning Madrid a draw that was a victory too: it was a goal that appeared an appropriate way to virtually win the league: down to 10 men, scored late, and by a substitute too, yet another comeback and this time it was set to be decisive, supporters in the stadium exploding.
But then with the final seconds ticking away, Sergi Roberto ran from deep and just kept running. When the ball was pulled back, Messi curled it into the corner.
He was still standing at the north end of the stadium holding out his shirt, disbelief engulfing everything, when the referee blew the final whistle.
Madrid began like they wanted to end the title race here. Go- ing straight at Barcelona, they were appealing for a penalty after just 91 seconds, when Cristiano Ronaldo tumbled in the area. Replays suggested Samuel Umtiti had caught him as he went by. Barcelona were not comfortable and it took until the fifth minute for Messi to get a touch, but when he did the visitors breathed. Soon, the ball was theirs, even if the pressure was not always easily overcome and leaving space on the break was a risk they had to run.
That very first spell of possession led to a swift counter which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo a shot. At the other end, Andrés Iniesta’s shot was blocked and then Luis Suárez pulled his shot wide from the edge of the area.
When Madrid scored the opening goal on 28 minutes, it came from a familiar source – a set play.
Gareth Bale broke down the right, winning a corner as Gerard Piqué slid in to stop it. Marc-André ter Stegen could only punch away Toni Kroos’s corner and Marcelo turned it back in, where Sergio Ramos nudged it against the post and Casemiro followed up. Madrid had the lead, the league title moving ever closer.
Three minutes later, Barcelona were level. Sergio Busquets found Ivan Rakitic on the right, who pulled it across the face of the area. Suárez let it run through his legs and Messi, sprinting forward, took it away from Modric and Dani Carvajal and struck it under Keylor Navas. It was a superb goal that had taken three touches. Messi scored it with a bandage still in his mouth, there since Marcelo had caught him with an elbow 10 minutes earlier.
Messi’s next shot was defected wide and a late break was ended by Casemiro as Messi dashed up the pitch. A moment later, Iniesta played in Alba behind Carvajal. Luis Suárez was racing in on the far side, but Alba was unable to find him. From the corner, Navas missed it; he was fortunate that so too did Messi. Leaping to make contact with his left foot, he steered the volley wide from barely two yards.
The second half began much like the first, Ter Stegen quickly having to tip wide a Kroos shot that brushed off the body of Gerard Piqué and was creeping i nsi de t he post. Then he blocked Benzema’s header from close range. Alcácer then had a wonderful opportunity just by the penalty spot, but he toe-poked it straight at Navas. Messi’s free-kick swung over and then he slotted the ball through to Suárez, only for his touch to prove heavy. Navas then made a superb save from Piqué’s towering header. This hadn’t even reached the quarter-hour yet.
Marco Asensio had replaced Bale and he was dangerous every time Madrid came forward. From one run, he laid across to Ronaldo, alone and eight yards out but the ball fell just behind him and he could only hook it over.
Navas then blocked Suárez from close range and beat away a shot from Messi. It was becoming hard to keep up. Back at the other end, Ter Stegen saved sharply from Asensio.
Ivan Rakitic then restored the visitors’ lead, stepping inside from the right and sending the ball arrowing into the far corner.
It was about to get worse for Madrid, when Ramos was given a straight red card for a foul on Messi. It was a long way from goal, but the Argentinian was threatening to escape up the right and the challenge was wild and two-footed, Ramos off the ground. Suárez and Gomes combined to give Piqué a chance but from seven yards he smashed it straight at Navas.
There were just over 10 minutes left and it was not done yet, although it might have been when Messi went on yet another run and, from the edge of the area, brought another save from Navas.
With five minutes left James, on for Benzema appeared to made a vital point for Real. Then came Messi.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a last-minute winning goal at the Bernabéu last night.