Barcelona took a huge step towards regaining the La Liga title as goals from Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal beat bitter rivals Real Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday to open up a 14-point lead over the European champions.
In a recurring theme of this season Madrid were made to pay for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema missing first-half chances as Barca took control after half-time.
Suarez rounded off a flowing counter-attack to open the scoring before Messi blasted home a penalty after Madrid defender Dani Carvajal was sent-off for punching the ball off the goal line.
And Messi was the creator as Vidal rubbed salt into Real’s wounds deep into stoppage time.
Here we look at the player ratings for Barcelona.
Ter Stegen 8. Another outstanding performance for his 11th clean sheet of the campaign. Made a decent stop with his foot to deny Ronaldo in the first half but really shone towards the end, making two key stops from Bale and another from Ramos to prevent a late scare.
Roberto 7. Digilent in defence, although he was tested by Marcelo in the first half, and broke forward superbly to set up Suarez’s opener with an unselfish pass. Moved to midfield for the final stages when Iniesta was replaced.
Pique 9. Excellent in the centre of defence, barely putting a foot wrong. Made a key block at the near post on Benzema in the first half and dealt with anything thrown at him with composure and conviction. Was often left as a ‘spare man’ by Madrid as they focussed on Busquets, but he used the ball well.
Vermaelen 6. Picked up an early booking for a foul on Modric and looked generally vulnerable in the first half. Better after the break and always strong in the air.
Alba 7. Couldn’t get as forward as much as usual due to the attacking threat of Carvajal, but his first dangerous run resulted in a chance for Suarez just before the opener, and he was solid defensively.
Paulinho 8. Played on the right of midfield but was always looking to burst into the box and had Barca’s only two chances in the first half, drawing saves from Navas with a fierce strike and a header. Continued to trouble Madrid’s defence with his powerful movement and is starting to symbolise the team’s new style.
Busquets 8. A poor start, losing possession regularly and looking generally out of sorts as he was man marked by Kroos. Completely different in the second half, which saw him totally control the midfield. Played the key pass to release Rakitic in the build-up to the first goal.
Rakitic 7. Almost invisible in the first half but really grew into the game after the break and led the counter-attack which led to Suarez’s opening goal. Contributed fully to his team’s dominance after that.
Iniesta 7. Some classy touches but a largely peripheral figure before being replaced by Nelson Semedo for the final 15 minutes. However, he worked hard defensively during the first half including one key clearance to deny Carvajal a huge chance.
Messi 9. Generally quiet in the first half but still created two chances for Paulinho, the first with a delicious pass. On a different planet after the break, looking capable of creating chances every time he touched the ball. His passing was sublime – including a one-booted assist for the third goal – and his penalty was fearlessly smashed into the top corner.
Suarez 7. Worked tirelessly to unsettle the home team defence. His first sight of goal early in the second half forced Navas into a low save, and he scored a minute later with an emphatic finish to back up the suggestion he is returning to his best following a poor start to the season. Should have scored again just before the penalty.
Semedo 6: Came on supposedly shore things up but nearly gave away a goal with a terrible first touch. Improved after that and came close to a goal with an angled shot after a speedy surge.
Gomes 6: A late replacement for Paulinho. Found plenty of space on the left but wasted a late chance for a third goal by blazing over the bar.
Vidal: Introduced for the closing seconds and had enough time to score the final goal with one of only three touches.
Barcelona warmed up for El Clasico with a 4-0 victory at home over Deportivo La Coruna, in which Lionel Messi somehow both starred and flopped. The Argentine was at the heart of everything good about Barcelona on the day, but missed several chances to score.
He was denied by the woodwork on more than one occasion, and also lacked his customary finishing touch in front of goal, missing one good chance and then seeing a penalty saved. Real Madrid will be hoping this sort of form continues next weekend.
Here’s a look at Messi’s performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 2
Shots – 11
Shots on target – 4
Pass Accuracy – 88%
Key Passes – 2
Dribbles – 3
Touches – 87
How do you judge a performance like this? In many ways, Messi was brilliant. As he always does, he skipped away from defenders with his dribbling ability and speed. His passing and vision were up to the usual high standard. He was involved in just about every Barcelona attack that possessed any threat. And yet, he missed a sitter and a penalty, and hit the woodwork three times. He genuinely could have scored six goals on Sunday – one of which he passed up by choosing instead to set-up Luis Suarez. Instead, this was a run-of-the-mill, zero-goal, one-assist performance with excellence in every department bar the finishing.
3rd min, CHANCE: By Messi’s standards, this was a tap-in. A flowing Barcelona move saw the ball come to Andres Iniesta inside the box, and the captain’s cutback was deflected into Messi’s path. It was a slightly difficult chance because of that deflection, but he should have scored.
29th min, ASSIST: Two pieces of brilliance followed by a moment of unselfishness. Messi brilliantly held his run after a corner was cleared to Iniesta, who matched his team-mate with an absolutely sumptuous ball, which Messi brought down with his chest. Completely unmarked just yards away from goal, Messi chose to square the ball to Luis Suarez instead of scoring himself.
37th min, SHOT: A one-two with Suarez allowed Messi to unleash a trademark sweeping left-footed shot, only for the ball to smack the crossbar and come back out.
41st min, SHOT/ASSIST: Messi’s love affair with the woodwork continued, as a brilliantly worked move ended with the Argentine in the box, certain to score. Instead, his shot came off the far post, straight into the path of Paulinho, who couldn’t miss.
67th min, SHOT: And again. Messi stood over a free-kick and everyone knew what was coming, but yet again the woodwork refused to cooperate. It was a beautifully curled shot, and so nearly a picture-perfect goal.
70th min, PENALTY MISS: If anything summed up the fact that it just wasn’t Messi’s day, this was it. Given a chance to get on the scoresheet after Suarez was tripped up in the box, Messi fluffed his lines from the spot – it was actually a fairly easy save for Ruben.
VERDICT – 8/10
On another day, we’d be raving about Messi scoring five goals, and adding an assist to boot, or maybe even scoring an unthinkable double hat-trick. Instead, two poor finishes – one from the penalty spot – and three shots against the woodwork left everyone bemused instead of bedazzled. It’s a shame, because this was so close to being a stunning display. In every aspect except finding the back of the net, Messi was his customary brilliant self.
Instead, we’ve been graced with a reminder that every so often, even Messi is a mere mortal. And just imagine the irony – this came right after he showed off the European Golden Boot to an adoring crowd. With El Clasico looming, it’s probably fair to say that Messi can’t possibly have two straight games with such bad luck – or did he just miss a perfect opportunity to send a shiver down the spines of Barcelona’s fiercest rivals?
The French international, who has been Atletico’s top scorer for the past three seasons, has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United in the past.
However, Barca appear willing to meet his €100m ($118 million) buyout clause as they seek to again unite Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with a prolific attacker following the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in August for a world record €222m.
“Barca settled on Griezmann as an objective for 2018 and they spoke with his entourage to see if he was willing to wear the blue and red shirt,” reported Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo.
“After receiving a ‘yes’ in response, an agreement was reached with the French goalscorer involving Pep Segura, Barca’s general manager, and Robert Fernandez, the director of football.
“President Josep Maria Bartomeu has now entered to finalise the operation.” the newspaper reported adding that “Bartomeu met recently with Griezmann’s family to eat in Barcelona.”
Griezmann, 26, agreed to sign a new contract with Atletico in June after the club had an appeal against a transfer ban rejected.
The top scorer at Euro 2016, Griezmann said it would have been “dirty” to walk out on the club when they couldn’t replace him until January.
However, Atletico coach Diego Simeone accepted this week that Griezmann’s departure is inevitable. Many of Atletico’s other outstanding players, including strikers Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa, have also left in recent years for pastures new.
“Of course Griezmann will be able to leave at some point, as Diego Costa, Diego Ribas and Arda Turan have gone,” Simeone told French sports daily L’Equipe.
“If a player comes to me and says, ‘coach, I have a chance of a lifetime and want to leave’, and if he’s left everything on the pitch for me like Griezmann, I’ll say, ‘no problem’.”
Atletico are also likely to come under financial pressure to sell after moving into a new €310m stadium in September and falling to make it into the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in five years.
The club have also already committed to nearly 100 million euros in transfers for January with Costa returning from Chelsea and Spanish international Vitolo joining from Sevilla.