Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona: Benzema and Kroos seal El Clasico triumph

El Clasico

Real Madrid climbed to the top of LaLiga for the first time since November after a 2-1 victory over Barcelona in El Clasico, thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos.

Benzema’s sublime flick and a deflected Kroos free-kick put Zinedine Zidane’s side two up within the first 30 minutes, fresh off their Champions League quarter-final first-leg victory over Liverpool.

Oscar Mingueza’s second goal of the season set up a dramatic final half-hour, and Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute, but Madrid held on to win their third consecutive match against Barcelona in all competitions for the first time since 1978.

Los Blancos have moved ahead of Ronald Koeman’s side and Atletico Madrid in the standings, though Diego Simeone’s side can retake first place with a draw against Real Betis on Sunday.

In the 13th minute, Benzema ended a run of nine appearances against Barcelona in all competitions without scoring – his longest such streak against a single opponent as a Madrid player.

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After 28 minutes, the hosts increased their lead when Kroos’ 20-yard free-kick was deflected into the net by Sergino Dest’s back and Jordi Alba’s head.

Valverde’s swirling shot pinged off the post, and Vazquez was unable to guide the follow-up past Ter Stegen before the break.

When Lionel Messi’s corner drifted over Thibaut Courtois and bounced back off the post in first-half stoppage time, the Belgium goalkeeper prevented him at the back post from Ousmane Dembele’s corner.

On the hour mark, Barca cut the deficit in half, with Mingueza nudging home from 10 yards after Antoine Griezmann dummied Jordi Alba’s cross.

When Martin Braithwaite went down under a challenge from Ferland Mendy in the closing stages, Barca insisted on a penalty, but referee Jesus Gil Manzano was unmoved.

For the first time since the 2007-08 season, Casemiro got a second yellow card for a late challenge on Mingueza, before Ilaix Moriba rattled the crossbar with almost the last kick of the game to give Madrid a league double over their rivals.

What does this imply? The quest for the LaLiga title is ideally poised.

There were no fans in attendance, and the game was played against a relentless, pouring storm, but it was one of the best El Clasico matches in recent memory.

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Madrid will go into the final eight games of the season with a spring in their step, but Barcelona, who had a streak of nine straight away wins in LaLiga halted, are just a point behind Madrid and still very much in the title chase.

Messi’s dreadful El Clasico record continues.

This may have been Messi’s last El Clasico, with rumours rife that he would leave Camp Nou at the end of the season.

What comes next?

Madrid can qualify for the Champions League semi-finals if they avoid loss at Anfield against Liverpool on Wednesday, while Barcelona will redeem themselves by winning the Copa del Rey final next Saturday against Athletic Bilbao.

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