Real Madrid averted a crisis in the best possible way on Saturday by beating Barcelona 3-1 at Camp Nou 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 its rival and increase the pressure on Zinedine Zidane. Instead, Real’s win earns it 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, Real was 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 faces Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League, without the suspended Gerard Pique. Every Barca set-back is now seen through the lens of Messi’s future too. The Argentinian has still to score from open play this season.
The coronavirus pandemic meant the biggest football stadium in Europe was silent for the game that LaLiga president Javier Tebas had claimed is “still the biggest football match in the world”.
LaLiga: Barcelona 1 (Fati 8) lost to Real Madrid 3 (Valverde 5, Ramos 63-pen, Modric 90).
Premier League: West Ham 1 (Antonio 18) drew with Manchester City 1 (Foden 51); Fulham 1 (Cairney 90+5) lost to Crystal Palace 2 (Riedewald 8, Zaha 64).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich 5 (Lewandowski 10, 26, 60, Sane 72, Musiala 90) bt Eintracht Frankfurt 0; RB Leipzig 2 (Upamecano 11, Sabitzer 77-pen) bt Hertha Berlin 1 (Cordoba 8); Union Berlin 1 (Andrich 36) drew with Freiburg 1 (Grifo 34); Mainz 2 (Mateta 23 36) lost to Borussia Moenchengladbach 3 (Stindl 15, Hofmann 76-pen, Ginter 83); Stuttgart 1 (Mangala 1) drew with Cologne 1 (Andersson 23-pen).
Serie A: Atalanta 1 (Zapata 80-pen) lost to Sampdoria 3 (Quagliarella 13, Thorsby 59, Jankto 90+2).