Barcelona won in the Santiago Bernabeu for the second successive year to put themselves in pole position for the La Liga title. Goals from Lionel Messi & Pedro in either half secured a 2-0 victory and opened a 3 point lead at the top of the table. Real's best chance came when Rafael van der Vaart was denied by a smart save by Victor Valdes. With just seven games remaining this season Real coach Manuel Pellegrini conceded that the defeat was a 'big blow' but insisted it was too early to say the title was Barcelona's.
It ended a splendid week for the Catalans coming hot on the heels of their 4-1 victory over Arsenal in Wednesday's Quarter-Final second leg tie. Messi was the executor on that occasion but in this match it was Xavi who was the central figure. In a performance of class & quality it was the diminutive Spaniard who proved to be the difference between the sides as his two exquisite passes set up both of Barcelona goals. For all of Real's riches they don't have a player who can control a game quite like Barcelona's midfield maestro.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured, Barcelona lined up with a front three of Dani Alves & Pedro flanking Messi. Despite the irregular choice of personnel it was the Catalans who settled the better. Using their quick passing style to move the ball around Pep Guardiola's team had the better of the opening exchanges. And they may well have had more to show for their start had the Raul Albiol's tackle on Messi produced the penalty that the challenge warranted. Real by comparison were subdued with only a few flashes from Cristiano Ronaldo to note of.
In all honesty the first half was a scrappy affair with the game punctuated with fouls every few minutes. The contest wasn't helped by the official, Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez, penchant for handing out yellow cards. In fact mid-way through the first half there was serious concern that we wouldn't have 22 players on the field of play by the end of the game. It was actually following one of the numerous infringements that Barcelona took the lead. Messi having been fouled on the left hand side of the pitch picked himself up & quickly restarted the game. After playing the ball to Xavi, the Argentine forward burst into the box to collect his teammates wonderful chipped pass before wrong footing Albiol & slotting the ball past a cruelly exposed Iker Casillas. It was a moment of magic to light up a very ordinary first half.
Real continued to be at the margins of the game but did have two opportunities to draw level before half time. Firstly Xabi Alonso had a great chance from a corner but headed over from just 5 yards out. While Gonzalo Higuain had a tougher chance, which he blazed over the bar.
The second period began in similar fashion to the first though at least Valdes was called into making a few saves as Marcelo & Ronaldo both tested the Barcelona keeper. However Barcelona reasserted their superiority by doubling their lead through Pedro. Collecting another superb defence splitting pass from Xavi, Pedro curled a smart shot past the outstretched hand of Casillas.
Real had the opportunity to respond almost immediately when substitute Guti played in Van der Vaart. Unfortunately for the home fans the Dutchman's effort was too close to Valdes & the chance was gone. Thereafter Real created a few half chances but never seriously threatened the Barcelona goal. In contrast Casillas twice denied Messi from extending the lead. Real's evening was summed up when Benzema handled the ball just before his fellow substitute Raul had the ball in the back of net. It completed a miserable night for Madrid fans but the worrying thing for them is that it could be considerably worse with the Champions Legaue final due to be held at the same ground this year.