FC Barcelona fall to Real Madrid, 2–1, as long unbeaten streak ends in disappointment

Messi is tripped up by Sergio Ramos at the edge of the penalty area. / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Gerard Pique’s goal gives Barça the lead, but late strikes spell doom on a night of tribute

The passing of each El Clásico leaves in its wake — without exception — a brand new chapter in the annals of history documenting the grandest of rivalries: Futbol Club Barcelona versus Real Madrid.

Saturday night’s match at Camp Nou, however, was more than just another episode. It was an epic game that had it all — a tear-inducing pre-game tribute to the recently passed Johan Cruyff and a minute of silence, frighteningly fearless tackling, heart-stopping end to end play and, stunningly, a tight, evenly matched encounter standing in juxtaposition to a bizarrely large gap between the two arch-rivals in the league table.

Nevertheless, the biggest jolt of all came when the game ended in a shocking 2–1 upset victory for Real Madrid.

The loss, a dramatic reversal from the first meeting between the two rivals this season, when FC Barcelona routed Real in Madrid, 4–0, is FCB’s first since 3 October and snaps their Spanish record 39-game unbeaten streak.

What was a ten-point gap between the first- and third-place teams in the league standings now sits at seven.

Although the match went into the intermission with a pair of goose eggs on the scoreboard, it was, as El Clásicos always are, the antithesis of a scoreless snoozer. FC Barcelona had the upper hand early with two juicy looks at the Real Madrid goal that Suárez and Rakitic were unable to convert.

The so-called trident appeared on the radar in the 55th minute after combining on a dangerous attack, as Neymar and Luis Suárez helped find Messi, whose floating chip toward the upper right corner was exquisitely palmed away by Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

But Gerard Piqué broke free on the ensuing corner kick to head in for a 1–0 lead, with Ivan Rakitic chalking up the assist from the corner flag.

Real Madrid drew level at 1–1 on a fortuitous sequence in the 64th, when a pass by Toni Kroos ricocheted up into the air off the heel of defender Jordi Alba and fell right to Karim Benzema, who was in the right place at the right time and struck a clean volley to beat Claudio Bravo from the edge of the six-yard box.

Madrid then had three straight chances to go ahead with less than ten minutes remaining. Gareth Bale scored on a header but it was nullified as Bale was whistled for a foul on the jump ball with Jordi Alba. Cristiano Ronaldo skimmed a shot off the crossbar. And Bale’s shot that squeezed through the legs of Bravo was swept away by Alba before reaching the goal line.

Ramos was then booked for the second time in the 84th, leaving the All Whites with ten men and an uphill battle for the remainder.

The game seemed destined for a draw but, seconds later, Ronaldo settled a high cross from Bale on the far side of the Barça net and slipped the shot past Bravo for the deciding goal.