Madrid miss major opportunity after shackling Messi
The Blancos gave as good as they got for long spells at Camp Nou, but their failure to get something could have lasting repercussions
Real Madrid had enough possession, enough chances, and enough momentum to beat Barcelona on Sunday night. But instead they will be left to rue their inability to make it all count after going down 2-1 at the Camp Nou and seeing their La Liga title hopes fade into the distance.
They entered the game as underdogs and went behind early on. But after Jeremy Mathieu’s opener the tie seemed to have swung in Madrid’s favour, and from there they should really have gone on to win.
The 23-second turnaround which developed on the half-hour could not have been more dramatic. From Neymar being presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to leave Madrid with next to no hope, to Cristiano Ronaldo slotting home an equaliser, the game changed in little more than a blink of an eye.
Until that point Barcelona had been largely dominant, but by the time they regained the lead it was Madrid who had bossed the game and looked most likely to score a second. Indeed, Gareth Bale had found the net late in the first half only to find that Ronaldo had been flagged offside as he touched on Karim Benzema’s cross.
It was about the only positive influence the Welshman ever looked likely to have on the fixture.
Far too much of the game passed Bale by once more, continuing a common theme in Real Madrid’s season. Last term, people warned that it might take the ex-Tottenham man some time to settle into the way of things in Spanish football, opening him up to the possibility of fluctuating form.
Yet 12 months on from a sensational first season he has hit a road block, and never was it more apparent that at the Camp Nou on Sunday. The €100 million man wasn’t worth 100 million pesetas on this showing.
On the other side Lionel Messi was also quiet for the most part, but that simply made the result more lamentable for Madrid. Much of the pre-match talk suggested that stopping the Argentine from having an influence should be the key behind a Blancos win, but even that wasn’t enough in the end.
Indeed, over the 90 minutes there were many areas which bore the hallmark of a memorable Madrid triumph. With Messi quiet and Neymar wasteful, Barcelona were far from firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Benzema was imperious in his movement and link play, Marcelo was looking to advance into deep positions every time his side had the ball, and Luka Modric looked like a man at the peak of his power rather than a player in the early stages of a comeback from a four-month lay-off.
Given all of those factors, this might be the most frustrating Clasico defeat Madrid have tasted in some years. Though Ronaldo was largely quiet and ineffective, and Bale was a passenger, they still did plenty that suggested they were worthy of at least a draw. Ultimately, two defensive lapses saw Sergio Ramos lose Mathieu at a free-kick, then Pepe allow Suarez time and space to bury the winner.
They were costly individual errors, with the capital club potentially missing out on a Liga title as a result. The loss could also be provide the starting point to a saga which ends in Carlo Ancelotti losing his job. On such moments careers can be made or broken.
Sometimes it is better to simply be second best and lose heavily. The most regrettable games are those which sit in your grasp but ultimately escape you.
Madrid will really feel this one.
By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
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