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Mar 24, 2014

Lionel Messi celebrating against Real Madrid

Lionel Messi made all the difference between Real Madrid and Barca in one of the most sensational Clasico we have seen in recent times, to cut Barca's deficit in the top by one point. In a match which swung like a pendulum between each team, Lionel Messi scored three, two from the spot and created the opener. It was classic Clasico, which had goals from Messi and Ronaldo, a Sergio Ramos red card, a controversial penalty awarded for Real Madrid; some Real Madrid fans could argue there was one awarded for us also; it had it all. Even with this victory we still lie at third position, but the difference between the top and us is just one point, and that's crucial. Martino went with the same line-up which featured in the second leg of the Manchester City tie for this all crucial match. Alves, Pique, Mascherano and Alba made up the back four in front of Valdes. Cesc, Busquets and Xavi formed the midfield trio. The front three had Iniesta on the left, Neymar on the right and Messi in the centre. Pinto, Bartra, Adriano, Song, Sergi Roberto, Pedro and Alexis all started from the bench. The Real Madrid side started as I predicted in the preview - Lopez, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Alonso, Modric, Di Maria, Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo.

In the 4th minute Messi released Neymar on the right, who forced a normal save from Lopez from a tight angle. The very next minute Benzema shot wide from an important position after Iniesta gave the ball away in his own box. It was clear from the start that Real Madrid was pressing really from the start. In the 7th minute Iniesta gave Barca an early lead when he finished brilliantly after a marvelous through ball from Messi put him through. That was one hell of a shot by Iniesta. In the 12th minute Di Maria with a brilliant run into the box placed the ball on a platter for Benzema, who luckily for us shot high over the bar. The high line of pressing from Real Madrid was making it extremely difficult for Barca's defense and as I wrote in my preview the absence of Iniesta from midfield was complicating matters for them a bit. In the 15th minute a brilliant ball from Xavi put Messi through on goal, but to everyone's surprise he shot wide. In the 19th minute Messi played yet another brilliant ball playing Neymar on, whose first touch deserted him and that allowed Pepe to make the challenge. In the 20th minute Real Madrid made us pay for all those missed chance when Benzema met a super cross from Maria in the box to score a header to make it 1-1. In the 24th minute Benzema put Madrid in the lead after once again linking up with Di Maria on the left after Mascherano made a mess of clearing the ball. Di Maria was all the problems for Barca on our right and it was clear that we have to shore up that part to deal with it. In the 26th minute Benzema was denied by Pique on the line after once again finding himself at the end of Di Maria. In the 42nd minute Lionel Messi equalised for Barca after a piece of brilliant link up between Neymar and himself in the box.Messi played a one-two with Neymar in the box and managed to finsih between a host of Real Madrid players. With that goal Lionel Messi has equalised with Hugo Sanchez in the La Liga all time scorers list. At 2-2 everyone would agree that the match was living up to the billing and the half time scoreline was fair on both team. But Martino needed to make a quick call regarding Cesc Fabregas, who apart from getting Pepe and himself booked with a small fight have simply gone missing in the match.

Martino went with an unchanged eleven for the second half. In the 52nd minute Valdes made a blinder of a save to deny Benzema from scoring after Bale put him through after a sensational run through the middle. In the 54th minute Real Madrid was awarded a penalty after Dani Alves tripped him at the edge of the box; it was a pretty bad call as the foul came outside the bo. Ronaldo converted to put Real Madrid back in front. In the 58th minute Valdes made yet another save off Bale. In the 60th minute Iniesta saw his long range shot going just high. In the 63rd minute Ramos was awarded a straight red card after he pulled down Neymar in the box after a brilliant long ball from Messi put him through. Lionel Messi made no mistake with the penalty to make it 3-3. Ancelloti took off Benzema and brought in Varane to fill up the gap. In the 68th minute Neymar was taken off for Pedro. In the 74th minute Alves struck the post with a shot from outside the box. In the 78th minute Cesc Fabregas was taken off for Alexis Sanchez. In the 83rd minute the referee awarded a penalty for Barca after Carvajal and Alonso brought Iniesta down in the box. Lioenl Messi made no mistake, once again scoring his second hat-trick in that many matches putting Barca 4-3 ahead.

Questions could be asked about Martino's selection, especially Cesc Fabregas, who was simply absent for the most part of the match and was also a bit undisciplined in defending. But there is no point on analysing on that now as we secured a very big three points. Lionel Messi, who had received a fair share of criticism in the League recently is truly back, and currently is the leading scorer in Clasico. He also have surpassed Hugo Sanchez as La Liga's leading top scorer, he did that at the Santiago Bernebeu is something of a fantasy.

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