El Clasico 2011/12: Real Madrid 1 Barcelona 3


Barcelona overcame conceding one of the fastest goals in El Clasico history to win 3-1 at Real Madrid on Saturday, ending its arch rival's 15-match winning run and moving ahead in the Spanish league title race. Barcelona was behind after just 21 seconds, but recovered to move above Madrid on goal difference atop the Spanish league standings.

"We've been faithful to our philosophy, keeping hold of the ball and we were superior," said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez.

Karim Benzema pounced to open the scoring when Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes mis-kicked a clearance. But Lionel Messi ripped open the Madrid defense to provide the equalizer for Alexis Sanchez on the half-hour mark and Xavi marked his 600th game for Barcelona with a deflected shot for the lead in the 53rd. Cesc Fabregas headed in the third at the back post in the 66th.

"We should have had more control of the game, but to win here you have to play a very good game and that's what we did," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, whose voice was hoarse in the post-match press conference. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said luck played a part in his team's loss and described his players as 'sad but calm'. "Luck has made the difference a bit. But that's a consequence of how football is. I don't want to take anything away from the winning team,' Mourinho said.

Mourinho used Mesut Oezil alongside Lassana Diarra and Xabi Alonso in central midfield, with Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo up front. "I decided to play that way because we were playing at home and we wanted to win," Mourinho said. Counterpart Guardiola started with Sanchez and Fabregas providing support to Messi.

Surprisingly, Guardiola picked Carles Puyol ahead of Javier Mascherano. The Argentine has been Barcelona’s most consistent defender but Puyol’s incredible record of not being on the losing side for Barcelona in 19 months had persuaded his manager that he was the man for the big occasion and his Ronaldo-shackling performance completely justified the decision.

As expected, Madrid's players started the game at breakneck speed, but it was a simple mistake by Valdes that presented the home side with the quickfire opening goal. The Barcelona goalkeeper shanked his attempted clearance straight to Angel Di Maria and the ball eventually found its way to Benzema who smashed into the roof of the net. That goal, timed at 21 seconds, is believed to be the fastest in El Clasico history and only the fifth between the teams in the first minute of play.

"I'm delighted with the performance we gave. The perfect image of how the team responded is Victor Valdes. After the goal he kept playing the ball. I prefer that he loses that ball and we keep playing out from the back, and that's what we did," said Guardiola.

The early strike fueled the electric atmosphere in the Bernabeu, with white flag-waving fans baying at every adverse refereeing decision and even cheering throw-ins. Barcelona threatened for the first time in the seventh minute when Madrid defender Sergio Ramos slipped when in possession and presented the ball to Messi, but goalkeeper Iker Casillas produced a fine low save to thwart the Argentine forward.

Madrid kept the Barcelona attack at bay, and Ronaldo looked to double the lead in the 19th when he advanced through midfield and stung Valdes' palms with a shot the keeper could only push away. Casillas punched over a free kick from Xavi three minutes later, before Ronaldo skewed wide with a clear chance in the 25th - clutching his head in despair at the waste. The struggling Ronaldo drew catcalls from the normally adoring Bernabeu crowd when he opted for a speculative shot in the 28th when a cross might have been the better option.

With Barcelona's attack stuttering, it took a familiar stroke of genius from Messi to create the equalizer. Messi collected the ball just inside the opposition half and embarked on a mazy dribble that drew several defenders before he fed Sanchez to slide the ball past Casillas. More evidence that it was not to be Ronaldo's night came when the Madrid striker headed a glorious chance wide from Alonso's cross in the 65th and the miss was ruthlessly punished. Just a minute later, Dani Alves rampaged down the right flank and sent a cross that Fabregas met with a diving header across goal to give Barcelona a two-goal cushion.

As Madrid trudged off the pitch at the final whistle, Mourinho walked over to the Barcelona bench and shook hands with Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova. Vilanova, who was gouged in the eye by Mourinho after their Supercopa match at the start of the season, was back after recovering from surgery to remove a tumor on his parotid gland. "I just wished him good health. It's the same as I would wish anybody, whether their problems are big or small," said Mourinho.

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