Real Madrid inched closer to their first La Liga title in four years on Saturday after Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal for a 2-1 victory over Barcelona. The win gave Madrid a seven point lead over their rivals with only four games to go.
REUTERS – Real Madrid have one hand on a first La Liga trophy in four years after Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant winner in a 2-1 victory at Barcelona on Saturday that stretched their lead over their bitter rivals to seven points with four games left.
It was Real’s first win in eight La Liga ‘Clasicos’ and could have an impact on confidence for next week’s Champions League semi-final second legs when Real host Bayern Munich and Barca entertain Chelsea.
On a rain-swept night at the Nou Camp, when Real also set a new record of 109 goals scored in a league season, Sami Khedira was sharpest to react when Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes dropped the ball at a corner.
The Germany midfielder bundled it over the line for a 17th-minute lead.
Barca had started nervously and lacked their usual fluidity and once Real were ahead they defended solidly and rarely looked like conceding as Barca stroked the ball around on the slick surface without real penetration.
The noise volume inside the giant arena rose after substitute Alexis Sanchez finally scrambled the ball in for the equaliser with 20 minutes left but the home fans were silenced three minutes later.
Mesut Ozil’s superb pass released Ronaldo on the right and he took the ball wide before smashing it home.
The goal, extending his La Liga record tally for the season to 42, was the best response to critics who accuse the Portuguese of flopping in big games and he is now one goal ahead of Barca forward Lionel Messi at the top of the scoring chart.
Barca had won six Clasicos and drawn one since coach Pep Guardiola took over in 2008. It was a first victory in the contest for Guardiola’s Real counterpart Jose Mourinho in four attempts.
As well as virtually wrapping up the title, Real’s win ended Barca’s 11-match winning streak in the league and inflicted a first defeat on the Catalans in 35 league matches at the Nou Camp and in 55 home games in all competitions.
It was a triumph for Portuguese Mourinho, the combative former Barca assistant coach whom Real took from Inter Milan two years ago to try to end Barca’s three-year grip on the Spanish title.
Mourinho may yet have another crack at his old club in the Champions League final although they trail Bayern 2-1 and Barca are 1-0 down to Chelsea after this week’s first legs in Munich and London.
Saturday’s match followed a similar pattern to Wednesday’s game at Stamford Bridge, with Barca dominating possession but struggling to find a way through a resolute defence.
The Spanish and European champions suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time in nearly three years and now need to regroup for Tuesday’s clash with Chelsea.