Real Madrid ease pressure on Zidane with rousing victory over Barcelona

Real Madrid ease pressure on Zidane with rousing victory over Barcelona
Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi challenges Real Madrid’s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro during Saturday’s Spanish League football match. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 25 October 2020

Real Madrid ease pressure on Zidane with rousing victory over Barcelona

Real Madrid ease pressure on Zidane with rousing victory over Barcelona
  • Argentinian star Lionel Messi has still to score from open play this season

BARCELONA: Real Madrid averted a crisis in the best possible way on Saturday by beating Barcelona 3-1 in the first empty Clasico, landing an early blow in La Liga’s title race.

Barca had the chance to inflict a third consecutive defeat on their rivals and increase the pressure on Zinedine Zidane.

Instead, Madrid’s win earns them a six-point lead over the Catalans, having played one game more.

Sergio Ramos’ penalty and a late Luka Modric goal finished off Barcelona after Federico Valverde and Ansu Fati had traded early strikes in a frantic game that defied those expecting further evidence of two heavyweights in decline.

Barcelona might feel hard done by, especially as Ramos’ penalty was awarded after a check by VAR and a hugely exaggerated fall by Madrid’s captain after Clement Lenglet tugged his shirt.

But aside from an impressive spell in the first half, when an inspired Lionel Messi threatened to win the game on his own, Madrid were dominant for longer spells and pulled away when it mattered.

This was Ronald Koeman’s first Clasico as Barcelona coach and some of the pressure Zidane would have felt from a loss is now transferred to the Dutchman, who has overseen only three wins from his first six games in charge.

Barcelona face Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League, without the suspended Gerard Pique.

Every Barca setback is now seen through the lens of Messi’s future too. The Argentinian, who failed in his attempt to leave last summer, has still to score from open play this season.

Mundo Deportivo had declared the match “The least Clasico of Clasicos” on its front page on Saturday morning.

The coronavirus pandemic meant the biggest football stadium in Europe was silent for the game that La Liga president Javier Tebas had claimed is “still the biggest football match in the world.”

In the previous week, Real Madrid had lost to Shakhtar Donestsk and newly promoted Cadiz, while Barcelona were beaten by Getafe last weekend

Yet a dip in quality does not have to mean a drop in drama and any doubts about the thrill of this fixture were answered in eight minutes, as both teams had scored.

Madrid made the start they dreamed of when Karim Benzema drifted deep into the right channel and was allowed to turn, with the sprinting Valverde going beyond him.

Valverde pierced the gap before lifting a curved shot past Neto and into the far corner.

Madrid celebrated as if their confidence had been reborn, but within three minutes, Barcelona were level.

Messi, from almost left-back, chipped a ball over the top freeing Jordi Alba who fired into the front post where Fati had nipped ahead of Ramos and turned in.

It was fast and open for the rest of the half, with Messi enjoying a golden spell. He glided past Casemiro and then swerved around Ramos, but onto his right foot, the finish stabbed into Thibaut Courtois at the near post.

Benzema should have scored too. Madrid finished the stronger before half time but Barca were better after. Fati flashed just wide and Philippe Coutinho missed a free header at the back post.

Their momentum was checked by Lenglet’s error, a tug in the box clear enough that Ramos’ shirt was stretched, even if the fall was comically exaggerated. Referee Juan Martinez checked the monitor. Ramos found the corner.

Barca wanted a penalty themselves when Ramos booted a ball into teammate Raphael Varane’s arm, but this time there was no whistle.

Ramos and Valverde both could have made it three in the final minutes before substitute Modric did, finishing beautifully after Neto rushed out.


Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games

Updated 05 December 2020

Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games

Juventus, Inter play catch-up on AC Milan before big European games
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Rossoneri are targeting their first Serie A title since 2011

MILAN, Italy: Juventus host city rivals Torino on Saturday looking to close the gap on high-flying Serie A leaders AC Milan before next week’s final Champions League group clash at Barcelona.

The Italian champions are fourth in the table, six points behind Milan, who head to Sampdoria on Sunday looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league.

Second-placed Inter Milan, five points adrift on their city rivals, host Bologna, days before their Champions League hopes will be decided in a must-win game against Shakhtar Donesk at the San Siro.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Milan are targeting their first Serie A title since 2011, when the Swede last played for the club.

Ibrahimovic has missed their last two games including their Europa League win over Celtic with a muscular injury and will be sidelined for the trip to 11th-placed Sampdoria.

But while Milan have shown they can win without their star striker, who leads the Serie A scoring charts with 10 goals, Juve are reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo.

BACKGROUND

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has missed their last two games including their Europa League win over Celtic with a muscular injury and will be sidelined for the trip to 11th-placed Sampdoria.

They have drawn five of nine games played this season including last weekend’s 1-1 against Benevento when Ronaldo was rested.

They have drawn five of nine games played this season including last weekend’s 1-1 against Benevento when Ronaldo was rested.

The Portugal forward will return for the derby along with Paulo Dybala, but Spain attacker Alvaro Morata sits out due to a two-match suspension.

Torino coach Marco Giampoalo has recovered from coronavirus as his 18th-placed side seek a first top-flight win at Juve since April 1995.

Milan head to Genoa looking to keep their unbeaten league run, and after qualifying for the Europa League knockout rounds.

“Ibra is an important player, even when he is not playing, he’s a leader,” said Pioli.

“But we have shown we have many solutions.”

Sassuolo are third, equal on points with Inter after suffering their first defeat of the season to Conte’s side last time out.

The side from Emilia-Romagna face a tough trip to sixth-placed Roma, whose seven-match unbeaten run ended in Napoli last weekend.

Napoli, in fifth, travel to promoted Crotone, as they push for a first league title since the days of Diego Maradona in 1990, to honour the memory of the Argentina legend.

Eighth-placed Atalanta go to Udinese before their Champions League trip to Ajax, with Lazio, just behind, playing at promoted Spezia before hosting Club Brugge.

Captain Andrea Belotti needs one more goal to reach his 100th Torino goal.

Belotti, 26, has accounted for seven of his struggling side’s 16 goals this season and they have six points from nine games.

The Italy forward joined the club in 2015, scoring a career-high 26 league goals the following campaign.