x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Ibrahimovic helps Barcelona retain edge

Supersub's strike allows 'most successful team' to win third successive Clasico victory over the 'most expensive team' Real Madrid.

Ibrahimovic scores on the volley on the hour mark at Camp Nou.
Ibrahimovic scores on the volley on the hour mark at Camp Nou.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish supersub, was the hero as a 10-man Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in an enthralling 'El Clasico' at Camp Nou to move top of the table by two points on Sunday. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who was exceptional, both started but it was Ibrahimovic who stole the limelight volleying in a 56th minute winner just five minutes after coming on. Barca were reduced to 10 men when Sergi Busquets touched the ball with his hand just after the hour mark to invite a second yellow card. The winners had captain Carles Puyol also to thank for after his heroics produced three crucial blocks, against a Real side that missed some clear-cut chances.

It was a third successive Clasico win for Barca who are still unbeaten this season and nudge Real off the summit holding a two-point lead over their rivals. Ronaldo started for the first time since the end of September with Real coach Manuel Pellegrini feeling his ankle was strong enough. Ronaldo's return saw Karim Benzema drop to the bench while captain Raul also had to be content with a place on the bench.

Barcelona started with Messi who shrugged off a thigh strain but Ibrahimovic was on the bench with a thigh strain of his own, so Thierry Henry kept his place in attack. Ibrahimovic came on for Henry minutes into the second half and had an immediate impact on his Clasico debut scoring the opener five minutes after coming on. Dani Alves curled a delightful ball across the face of goal and Ibrahimovic arrived on cue guiding a left-footed volley past Iker Casillas.

It was touted as the Clasico between Real's 'Galacticos', the most expensive team on the planet, and the homegrown talent of Barca's 'cantera' who were the most successful team on the planet last season when they won a unique treble. Real were second best in terms of posession and Messi looked match fit as he thrust at the Real defence twisting Pepe inside out but Henry's poor low shot ended the danger.

On 19 minutes Ronaldo should have scored after Kaka cut inside before sliding the ball accross goal but Ronaldo's side-footed shot was saved brilliantly by Victor Valdes using his trailing foot. It was then Barca captain Puyol's turn for a heroic block to deny Marcelo on 29 minutes. Barca looked in control but Busquets was then sent off for handball just after the hour mark and Pep Guardiola was furious with his midfielder.

Real threw on Benzema but Barca should have made it 2-0 but Gerard Pique headed wide. Down to ten men Barca still attacked although Real had chances with Ronaldo heading over and Puyol producing another great block to thwart Benzema. Substitute Raul skied from right in front of goal while Casillas pulled off a wonder save to deny Messi at the death. Madrid's Lass Diarra was sent off in the closing stages for hacking down Xavi after Barca pinged the ball about like they were in training.

* AFP