Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona: Messi's positioning made the difference - Things learned

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Barcelona left Real Madrid with a mountain to climb in the La Liga title race after securing a 3-0 El Clasico win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Luis Suarez opened the scoring in the 54th minute before Dani Carvajal was sent off 10 minutes later for denying the visitors a goal with his hand.

Lionel Messi converted the resultant penalty and set up Aleix Vidal for the third in injury time to give the Catalans a 14-point lead over their rivals.

Here’s a look at three things learned from the encounter.

MESSI POSITIONING CREATED PROBLEMS

Zinedine Zidane decided to sacrifice Isco in order to deploy Mateo Kovacic to help keep tabs on Messi. Many have tried and failed to keep the Argentine quiet though and once again, the Barcelona star used his intelligence to work around Madrid’s strategy.

Despite playing as part of a two-man attack with Suarez, Messi drops into midfield to get on the ball, but on this occasion, he dropped even deeper than usual to shake off the attention from the Croatian and what it did was pull the Madrid midfielder out of position, allowing space for Barcelona to exploit.

That’s precisely what happened in the build up to the first goal. With Casemiro caught up the pitch, Kovacic had shadowed Messi all the way to the halfway line, leaving acres of space through the middle for Ivan Rakitic to run into.

He did just that, spread the ball to Sergi Roberto who then laid it on a plate for Suarez to finish.

Lionel Messi (L)

Lionel Messi (L)

ZIDANE TO TURN ATTENTION TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

After becoming the first team to secure back-to-back Champions League triumphs last season, Madrid may now have to gun for an unprecedented third straight win if Zidane is to remain in a job come the end of the season.

The bar is set audaciously high at Real Madrid and even though Zidane somehow managed to exceed expectations since taking over, no manager has immunity at the Bernabeu.

Barcelona’s 14-point lead over their rivals appears insurmountable, even though Madrid have a game in hand. It may be time for Zidane to turn his attention to the continental tournament if this season is going to end a success.

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

TER STEGEN PLAYED A HUGE ROLE

Barcelona scored three goals without reply but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Madrid had their chances, quite a few actually, and it’s a small miracle that they didn’t hit the back of the net – well, other than when Ronaldo headed in from an offside position.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been in top form this season and put in a great display again on Saturday. Some of the saves he pulled off were outstanding. He had no right to get his foot to a ferocious low drive from Ronaldo to deflect it wide of the post in the first half.

Gareth Bale came on in the closing stages and tested the German who was up to the task, denying the winger on two separate occasions.

Much has been said about Barcelona as a more compact and disciplined unit this season but Ter Stegen deserves every bit as much credit for their defensive record which is the best in the league.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (R) denies Ronaldo

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (R) denies Ronaldo

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Two good, two bad as Lionel Messi stars in Barcelona's 3-0 win over Real Madrid

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Barcelona moved 14 points clear of Real Madrid in LaLiga as three second-half goals wrapped up a convincing 3-0 victory at the Estadio Bernabeu.

Zinedine Zidane’s men had the better of a tight first period but Barcelona took control in the second and Luis Suarez swept home the opener before a Lionel Messi penalty took the game beyond Real.

It was a strange spot-kick award by referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez, who could simply have awarded a goal rather than a penalty after Dani Carvajal handled on the line but then knocked the ball in as he lost his footing. The decision also saw Carvajal sent off.

Substitute Aleix Vidal added a third in stoppage time, and the title now looks almost certain to return to the Nou Camp as LaLiga prepares to enter its winter break.

Here’s our two good and two bad performances from the Bernabeu.

TWO GOOD

LIONEL MESSI

A class act.

The Argentine converted a second half penalty for his 17th goal against Real Madrid, more than any other player in La Liga history.

He oozed class throughout the contest and was a vital source of leadership to his side as they curtailed the influence of Ronaldo, Modric and Casemiro.

Looked a composed presence on and off the ball, and will prove critical for Ernesto Valverde’s side as the season progresses.

GERARD PIQUE

The Spaniard was at his menacing best, cutting down the impact of Karim Benzema and delivering a totemic display for the visitors.

He looked a composed and hungry presence, with a pass accuracy of 92.2% and seven key clearances.

In addition, he reduced Benzema to just 29 touches and two shots – the Frenchman’s lowest contribution so far this season.

TWO BAD

KARIM BENZEMA

The inconsistent Frenchman spurned two scoreable chances in the first half that could have put a different reflection on the match.

He had the best opportunity of the opening period when he met Marcelo’s cross with a bullet header that came off the post.

Although he was well marshalled by the impeccable Pique, he was unable to get space or on the ball in dangerous areas to engineer any sort of attacking threat.

He was replaced after 66 minutes for Nacho Fernandez.

DANI CARVAJAL

Although he was one of Real Madrid’s most industrious defenders with 68 touches, the 25-year-old was a villain in some respects.

He received a red-carded for handling the ball inside the box – gifting the visitors a penalty which Messi duly tucked away.

His stats may look glamorous but he was often out of place in his positioning – which offered Jordi Alba the chance to ghost in behind the defence at every opportunity.

Real Madrid v Barcelona - La Liga

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Dominant Barcelona move 14 points clear of Real Madrid in La Liga

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Barcelona moved 14 points clear of Real Madrid in LaLiga as three second-half goals wrapped up a convincing 3-0 victory at the Estadio Bernabeu.

Zinedine Zidane’s men had the better of a tight first period but Barcelona took control in the second and Luis Suarez swept home the opener before a Lionel Messi penalty took the game beyond Real.

It was a strange spot-kick award by referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez, who could simply have awarded a goal rather than a penalty after Dani Carvajal handled on the line but then knocked the ball in as he lost his footing. The decision also saw Carvajal sent off.

Substitute Aleix Vidal added a third in stoppage time, and the title now looks almost certain to return to the Nou Camp as LaLiga prepares to enter its winter break.

Cristiano Ronaldo headed in off the underside of the bar for Real in the second minute but it was rightly disallowed for offside, as the hosts made a bright start.

The Portugal star then swung and missed at a low centre from Toni Kroos, with Andres Iniesta just getting to the loose ball ahead of the onrushing Carvajal to concede a corner.

Real were dominating possession and Messi dropped deeper and deeper in a bid to influence the game as the inclusion of Mateo Kovacic in Real’s midfield looked a masterstroke.

Messi almost created the opener on the half-hour mark as his angled pass picked out Paulinho’s run from deep but the Brazilian midfielder hooked his shot over.

Seconds later Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen stuck out a foot to divert a Ronaldo shot wide after the Portuguese cut in from the left.

Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas got down well to keep out a glancing Paulinho header five minutes before the break, and then Karim Benzema’s headed effort clipped the post after he got to Marcelo’s centre before defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Barcelona saw more of the ball in the early stages of the second half and took the lead in the 54th minute when Ivan Rakitic broke forward, spread the play right to Sergi Roberto and his low cross was side-footed home by Suarez.

Real’s frustration began to grow as Sergio Ramos was booked for a foul on Suarez, and Barca added a second in bizarre circumstances in the 64th minute.

Suarez had a shot blocked by Navas and then hit the post before Carvajal was sent off for a deliberate handball.

It was a controversial call to award the penalty and send the full-back off as the ball ended up in the net mere seconds later, but Messi’s confident penalty made sure there were no further recriminations.

Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio were brought on in a bid to give Real more cutting edge, and Ter Stegen reacted well to keep out a shot from the Welshman.

The Germany goalkeeper also made an impressive near-post block on a Ramos effort as Barca held firm at the back, and there was still time for a third after Vidal’s shot squirmed under Navas after good work from Messi on the right flank.

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