Real Madrid remains six points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga after a dramatic Clasico encounter at Camp Nou ended 1-1 following Sergio Ramos’s last-gasp equalizer in the 90th minute.
It appeared that Barcelona was in line for all three points after Luis Suarez opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, but the home side was forced to settle for its third straight league draw, unable to close the gap with Real Madrid despite ample opportunities to put the game away.
Here are three thoughts on the match and its fallout:
Missed chances will haunt Barcelona
It may be only 14 games into the season, but this clash had a season-defining element to it. Real Madrid traveled to Barcelona unbeaten in 32 matches–a run dating back to April–and with the chance to go nine points clear of its rival at the top. Even with 25 games left to pay, it would be a big gap from which to claw back. A Barcelona win, on the other hand, would reduce the deficit to three points and make it all to play for.
A scrappy first half low on clear-cut chances had the numbers crew searching out the last Clasico goalless draw (it came in November 2002). Eight minutes into the second half, though, the complexion of the match changed, as Luis Suarez headed home Neymar’s free kick. Suarez had been quiet before then but found the space between Mateo Kovacic and Raphael Varane to score his 65th goal in 75 games for Barcelona. It was the first goal Real Madrid had conceded from a set piece all season.
Barcelona dominated the next half hour, and had three good chances to double the lead and kill off the game. Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi all missed opportunities to make it 2-0. Madrid pushed for the equalizer in the last 10 minutes and got what it wanted entering stoppage time.
After Arda Turan conceded a free kick in the 89th minute, Luka Modric supplied a perfect cross, and Sergio Ramos emerged at the right spot at the right time–again–to head home a crucial equalizer. Ramos has previous experience when it comes to these late headed goals. He did the same in the UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla in August, and of course he forced extra time in the 2014 Champions League win over Atletico Madrid. The goal extends Madrid’s unbeaten run to 33 games; it has not lost away in the league in 2016; and most importantly, it remains six points ahead of Barcelona in La Liga's title race and prevented the hosts from chipping away at that lead.
Iniesta makes welcome return
Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta made his first appearance in six weeks, coming off the bench for the last half hour, and what a difference he made.
Just as Barcelona was braced for a Madrid response to going behind, Iniesta’s purring presence gave his side a foothold in the second half, and as stated above, Barcelona could–and should–have doubled its lead. Iniesta set up Neymar for one chance which he struck a ball over the crossbar; the midfielder had a shot himself that was deflected into the side-netting; and then came the pass of the game, a through-ball that split the Madrid defense to release Messi on goal.
The player who has scored more Clasico goals than any other player dragged his shot wide.
Barcelona looked like a totally different outfit to the team that needed “a miracle” (in Luis Enrique's words) to draw with Real Sociedad last weekend. Iniesta provided the quality to link the attack and defense that has been lacking. Barcelona faces Osasuna and Espanyol in the league before the winter break; with Iniesta back in the side, at least it can approach the future with confidence.
Classic Clasico Moments: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
Is Zidane a great coach or a lucky one?
Zinedine Zidane has passed every test asked of him in his short coaching career so far. He won the Champions League last season. Real Madrid is on top in La Liga and on course for just a second title in the last eight years. Last month his side beat Atletico Madrid 3-0, away from home. And yet the jury is still somehow out on how good of a coach he is, what his exact impact is, and what difference he makes to his team. The same debate has existed around Luis Enrique as well, and he has won a treble and a double from the Barcelona bench.
That means every decision is pored over, especially in the biggest games. Zidane kept faith with Isco in the No. 10 position and restored Karim Benzema to the lineup, pushing Cristiano Ronaldo wide left and with Lucas Vazquez on the right. Modric was Madrid’s best player in the first half, clinical with his passes and decisive with interceptions.
There were eyebrows raised when Zidane took off Isco and brought on Casemiro when he was chasing the game, and the critics were sharpening their pens when James Rodriguez was overlooked for midweek hat-trick hero Mariano Diaz as the final substitute.
Modric’s expert delivery for Ramos’s goal means that Zidane remains unbeaten this season. He can thank Dani Carvajal for that; the defender made a goal-line clearance after the equalizer to keep the scores level. The Zidane question may never have an answer. He might not be a tactical genius or a master motivator. But a bit of luck can go a long way.