MADRID, Spain, December 11 – Barcelona arrived at the Bernabeu under pressure with Real Madrid holding the edge in the title race but the 3-1 victory shows that the balance of power is still yet to change.
Afterwards, Real coach Jose Mourinho played down the importance of the one off match but while there were only three points in play it will have a psychological affect as despite coming into the el clasico on the back of 15 straight wins they were put in their place by the reigning domestic and European champions.
Pep Guardiola has an enviable record at the Bernabeu with Saturday’s victory his fourth since becoming Barcelona coach in 2008, and while it was not as convincing as the 6-2 thrashing which his players gave to their rivals in his first season the result will be equally significant.
Real had the chance to open up a six-point lead with a game in hand going into the winter break which although not being a decisive blow in the championship race would have made it very difficult for Barca to bounce back.
Instead, the Catalan side are level having played a game more as they now fly out directly from Madrid to Japan to play the Club World Cup.
Full of confidence Real took the lead after just 23 seconds with Karim Benzema firing home following an earlier error from Barca keeper Victor Valdes.
Barcelona looked edgy but Real were unable to build on their lead and the visitors struck back after 29 minutes through Alexis Sanchez.
After the break a deflected goal from Xavi Hernandez turned the game in Barcelona’s favour and on the break Cesc Fabregas sealed the win after 65 minutes.
It wasn’t a vintage performance from Barca as Real controlled much of the match and will be left ruing their misfortune and poor finishing. In particular it was a disappointing night for Real’s key striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who failed to make the most of several excellent chances.
“I was expecting it to be more difficult for us to create chances. In the summer (when the two met in the domestic Super Cup) we lacked the necessary rhythm which was a big factor but now after the first goal we began to play with our heads,” said Guardiola.
“I thought it was going to be tougher for us although it was a match in which we were going to need some luck.
“Madrid were always going to create chances, that has always happened when I have come here, but overall I am happy with the way the game went.
“I don’t think that this result will cause distress for Madrid, they will recover and continue to be the biggest rival. Nothing is decided now and it wouldn’t be either if we had lost.”
Barca midfielder Xavi believes the outcome will spur on Barcelona who are looking for their fourth straight league title.
“I think that we were clearly on top after conceding an early goal which was our own fault. We showed our philosophy and we wanted to play like that knowing that we couldn’t win doing it any other way,” said Xavi.
“There is still a long way to go in the title race and we are still to play them at home but this is a turning point for us and will give us a big boost.”
Mourinho admitted that the result was disappointing, but that it was not a make-or-break game.
“The players are sad but calm. Before the match we said we had our emotions under control and that this would not change if we went six points ahead or ended up level in the table,” he said.
“We have only lost a game and if we win our next match then we are leaders.”
The Madrid press were not looking for excuses with the sports daily Marca emphasasing that once again Barcelona have beaten Real at their own home while As’ headline read: “The best won.”
In Catalonia a delighted Sport and El Mundo Deportivo both were celebrating.
“Who said this Barca is dead? Who thought that this legendary side would not be able to get a key result at the Bernabeu and open up the championship race,” opined Sport.