December 11, 2011

Barca back on top after ending Real's winning streak

Barcelona ended Real Madrid's 15-match winning run to snatch back top spot in Spain's La Liga with a 3-1 "El Clasico" victory in the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho's team had been seeking to break the Real record set in 1960-61 and go six points clear, but surrendered the lead on goal difference despite scoring after 23 seconds. However, Barcelona have played one more match and Madrid will catch that up next weekend.

The 163rd Clasico clash had been billed as a showdown between superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but neither FIFA Ballon D'Or award candidate could add to their league-leading tally of 17 goals on a rainy night in Madrid.

Instead it was Karim Benzema who gave Real the perfect start when he pounced to volley home from close range after Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes gave the ball away, and Mesut Ozil's shot deflected into the France forward's path.
That boosted Mourinho's hopes of a first league win over the European champions, but Alexis Sanchez -- starting ahead of David Villa -- equalized on the half-hour with a fierce low shot after Messi burst through the middle.

Josep Guardiola's team took the lead eight minutes after halftime when a shot by midfielder Xavi, making his 600th senior appearance for Barca, took a cruel deflection off Real defender Marcelo and wrongfooted goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Mourinho responded by replacing Ozil with Kaka, and Real should have leveled in the 65th minute when an unmarked Ronaldo headed wide from Xabi Alonso's perfect cross.

The home side immediately paid for that, as Cesc Fabregas fired in a superb far-post header from Dani Alves' teasing right-wing cross.

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It was the former Arsenal midfielder's 10th goal in 13 starts this season, and gave Barca an advantage that Real could not reduce despite Kaka going close.

Barca had won just 16 of the 81 previous Clasicos played in the Spanish capital, but have not lost there in the league since 2008.

Third-placed Valencia failed to make ground on the leaders after conceding two late goals in a 2-1 defeat by Real Betis.

Ruben Castro netted twice in time added on after teammate Jose Dorado put through his own net in the 66th minute.

The defeat left Valencia seven points off the pace, while Betis moved away from the relegation zone and up to 13th.

Fourth-placed Levante closed to within a point of local rivals Valencia with a 1-0 win at home to Sevilla.

Defender Nano Rivas put his side five points clear of fifth-placed Sevilla with a 57th-minute winner after Sergio Ballesteros' effort was blocked on the line.


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