Barcelona kill Real Madrid’s title hopes with late winner in El Clasico – 6 talking points

BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID: Super sub Franck Kessie was Barcelona’s hero as they went 12 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, scoring just minutes after the visitors had a goal ruled out by VAR

Barcelona are now 12 points clear of Real Madrid
Barcelona are now 12 points clear of Real Madrid

Barcelona went 12 points clear of arch rivals Real Madrid in the La Liga title race after Frack Kessie’s 92nd-minute winner saw them come from behind in El Clasico.

Vinicius Junior had helped put the visitors ahead at the Camp Nou after just nine minutes, with his cross deflecting off the unfortunate Ronald Araujo. Sergi Roberto hit back for Barcelona before half-time, proving that Xavi Hernadez was right to start with him in midfield on a momentous occasion.

Although Xavi’s side forced the issue throughout the second half, Real Madrid had the ball in the back of the net through Marco Asensio in the 86th minute. It looked like a winner but VAR ruled the goal out for offside. That left substitute Franck Kessie to strike in the 92nd minute with his first goal for Barca, seemingly ending Real Madrid’s title hopes in epic fashion.

Here are six talking points from the Camp Nou.

Special guest Pep

There may’ve been plenty of Premier League and FA Cup action to feast on, but Pep Guardiola chose to spend his Sunday back on home soil to watch the most hotly-anticipated La Liga El Clasico in years. The Manchester City boss watched on nervously from the stands as his beloved Barcelona strutted out in search of what was billed to be a title-winning victory.

Guardiola will always be synonymous with the Camp Nou, having spent most of his life associated with the club, and hasn’t ruled out a return as manager. “If I’m training here [in Manchester], wherever and Barcelona calls me, I’ll go to Barcelona,” he declared in January. “It’s my club.”

If Xavi Hernandez stays on track, however, Guardiola might never get the chance.

Vinicius Jr finally wins Araujo battle

Vinicius Junior versus Ronald Araujo; the defining key battle of recent El Clasico fixtures. Coming into this one, Barcelona and Araujo were on a run of three successive victories in which Vinicius Jr had failed to score, much thanks to the Uruguayan defender’s man-marking masterclasses and been like kryptonite for the Real Madrid winger.

After just nine minutes on Sunday, though, Vinicius Jr finally got one over on his opponent by clipping in an early cross which deflected off Araujo and looped into Barcelona’s goal to give the visitors an early lead. The Brazilian knew that he’d profited from some misfortune, even giving rival Araujo a pat on the back after he finished celebrating in front of a mostly silent Camp Nou crowd.

Vinicius Junior's cross deflected off Ronald Araujo to make it 1-0 to Real Madrid
Vinicius Junior’s cross deflected off Ronald Araujo to make it 1-0 to Real Madrid

Catalan inspiration

Although Real Madrid drew first blood, the story of the first half was Barcelona’s response. Constantly probing Los Blancos’ back line in search of an equaliser, attacking duo Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha both troubled away goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Just as the half-time break dawned, it was Barcelona’s homegrown midfielder, Sergi Roberto, who popped up with a goal and vindicated Xavi’s decision to start him. Finishing off a goalmouth scramble with a cool strike, the Catalan native emphatically got Barcelona back on level terms – and the noise was deafening.

Sergi Roberto equalised for Barcelona just before half-time
Sergi Roberto equalised for Barcelona just before half-time

Ancelotti’s desperation shows

Cool, calm and collected he may look, but Carlo Ancelotti is desperate. While Real Madrid’s quest to retain the Champions League is going swimmingly, their bid to do the same with the La Liga title was looking weak as the closing stages dawned.

Despite being the side nine points clear, Barcelona were forcing the issue in the second half and Los Blancos couldn’t get a grip of possession. After making a double substitution on the hour mark, Ancelotti called for a triple change in the 77th minute – including bringing on Marco Asensio.

Carlo Ancelotti used all five of his substitutions in an effort to wrestle back control of the game
Carlo Ancelotti used all five of his substitutions in an effort to wrestle back control of the game

Asensio denied super sub role

Within four minutes of entering the fray, Marco Asensio made an impact and scored what seemed like a late winner for Real Madrid. Converting Dani Carvajal’s cross, the strike got back Ten Stegen but not VAR.

On the naked eye it looked level, but when the dreaded – or delightful – lines came out, it was clear that the Spain international was indeed offside. The stoppage also prompted a substitution from Xavi, bringing on Ferran Torres for Raphinha.

Kessie the hero

While it wasn’t Asensio who was the hero from the bench, it certainly was Frack Kessie! Xavi’s first sub saved the day with a late winner and means that Barcelona are now 12 points clear of old foes with as many games remaining.

Title race over? Maybe not officially but the elated Camp Nou seemed to think so.

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