Cristiano Ronaldo may have beaten his fierce rival to the Ballon d’Or this year but on the pitch Lionel Messi is dominant as he helps Barcelona streak well clear of Real Madrid in the LaLiga title race.
Messi scored a penalty to reach 17 goals against Real – a league record – but he was not the stand-out performer, while Ronaldo certainly endured another off-day by his usual lofty standards.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the two players considered the world’s best fared in El Clasico on Saturday.
Real arguably edged the first half, with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema using the channels well to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen on several occasions. But the Portuguese was out of sorts and an embarrassing air-shot in the 11th minute was symptomatic of his woes in front of goal.
Messi, despite converting a spot-kick to improve his excellent record against Real, was more of a creative force.
PULLING THE STRINGS
With Luis Suarez taking centre-stage with his goal, Messi and Ronaldo were instead occupied with pulling the strings for their team-mates. Messi performed better than his great rival here, too, creating nine chances and providing one assist while Ronaldo set up only one scoring opportunity, which was not taken.
Ronaldo relishes notching in El Clasico as it gives him licence to perform his haughty goal celebration, a leap and half-turn before planting his feet to resemble a classical statue.
Messi likes to keep it more simple, and the enduring image from this showdown was the skilful Argentinian approaching the touchline before opening his arms in a gesture of embrace towards the travelling Barca faithful.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.