LIONEL MESSI scored his 500th goal for Barcelona to send his team top of La Liga after a stunning solo performance against 10-man Real Madrid.
The Argentine maestro scored two brilliant goals – the winner coming with the FINAL kick of the game – and completely outperformed rival Cristiano Ronaldo as Luis Enrique’s team blew the title race wide open with a 3-2 win.
The titanic clash between the two bitter rivals sparked one of the best games of the season as the two sides traded blows.
Real Madrid opened the scoring in controversial manner with Sergio Ramos clearly offside in the build-up before defensive midfielder Casemiro bundled home from close range.
The home side were on top and their only concern was Gareth Bale, a late inclusion, went off before half-time as his calf injury flared up.
in the first-half but Messi brought his side back into the game with a piece of individual brilliance.
The Barca No 10 produced two sublime touches to absolutely bamboozle Dani Carvajal, before slotting home from close range.
The second half brought more heavy punches from the two sides as both pushed for winners.
Maligned goalkeepers Keylor Navas and Marc-Andre ter Stegen were the main reason the scoring stayed even – both goalkeepers had brilliant games and forced a number of excellent saves.
Ter Stegen produced a point-blank save from a close header from Karim Benzema before Navas made three excellent saves to keep the score at 1-1.
The Costa Rican kept out Paco Alcacer one-on-one, saved a bullet header from Gerard Pique before reacting quickly to deny Luis Suarez after a world class pass from Andres Iniesta.
Cristiano Ronaldo – who struggled to have any impact in the game – missed an open goal.
Although it wasn’t really his fault as Marco Asensio’s pass was behind the Real No 7.
As both sides pushed, Navas was powerless to save Ivan Raktic’s effort, the Croatian smashing in an unstoppable long-range effort with his weak foot.
When Sergio Ramos inexplicably lunged in two-footed on Lionel Messi – his fifth red card in 34 El Clasico matches – the contest seemed over.
But Barcelona, always porous at the back, allowed James Rodriguez to ghost in at the front post to score a goal that would have kept Real – who have a game in hand – top of the league.
That was until the visitors produced a lightning quick counter-attack in the final minute of the game.
Sergi Roberto beat two men, found Andre Gomes who slipped in Jordi Alba to cut back for Lionel Messi.
With Messi arriving at the edge of the box, the result was never in doubt.
Messi had one final insult for the Real Madrid fans – holding up his shirt to make sure they knew who scored the winner.
FACTS, STATS, GOALS AND LOLS
- Sergio Garcia was paraded around the Bernabeu pitch in his Green Jacket and took the honorary kick-off for the game. The Masters winner is a lifelong fan of Real Madrid and an honorary life member
- With left winger Neymar missing, Luis Enrique opted for a midfield diamond with Lionel Messi in the No 10 role and two strikers. It worked well with Jordi Alba, a huge loss in recent weeks, bombing on down the left to provide width
- Lionel Messi – against all empirical evidence – IS human. After taking an elbow from Marcelo, the Argentine star bled real actual human blood
- Actually he’s not human. The Barca No 10 absolutely bamboozled Dani Carvajal with two sublime touches before slotting home
- Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has been maligned for much of his time at Barca, but the German keeper was excellent, making SEVEN saves – and a couple of stunners
- At the other end Keylor Navas only made two saves, but both were hugely important to keeping Real Madrid in the game
- Andres Iniesta has had a poor campaign by his lofty standards but rolled back the years to make one of the passes of the season to Luis Suarez. It’s just a shame the Uruguayan’s effort was saved
- Sergio Ramos seemed to have matured in the last year – but he was back to his worst late in the game. For no apparent reason the Spanish captain lunged in on Lionel Messi two footed with no hope of winning the ball. It was a definite red, how he had the gall to appeal is beyond. It’s Ramos’ fifth red card in 34 El Clasicos
- Barcelona need a defensive revamp in the summer. The club obviously play an uber-attacking brand of football that sees their full-backs bomb on, but so many times the defence was left exposed. Gerard Pique is ageing and Samuel Umtiti is often caught out of position. James Rodriguez’s goal was a prime example of their lack of defensive awareness.
- Did Messi just put in a performance that makes him the greatest ever? If this Barca team – a poor version compared to years past – go on to win the league, that game will be a defining match in Messi’s considerable legacy. Treasure him while he’s still playing at this kind of level.
NEXT FIVE FIXTURES
April 26 – Deportivo (a)
April 29 – Valencia (h)
May 2 – Atletico Madrid, Champions League (h)
May 6 – Granada (a)
May 10 – Atletico Madrid, Champions League (a)
April 26 – Osasuna (h)
April 29 – Espanyol (a)
May 14 – Las Palmas (a)
May 21 – Eibar (h)
May 27 – Alaves, Copa del Rey final (n)
REAL MADRID: Navas 8, Carvajal 6, Ramos 4, Nacho 6, Marcelo 7, Kroos 6, Casemiro 7 (Kovacic 70), Modric 7, Bale 5 (Asensio 39), Ronaldo 5, Benzema 5 (Rodriguez 82).
Subs not used: Casilla, Morata, Isco, Danilo.
Booked: Casemiro, Kovacic
Sent off: Ramos
Goals: Casemiro 28), Rodriguez (85)
BARCELONA: Ter Stegen 8, Roberto 6, Pique 7, Umtiti 6, Alba 8, Busquets 7, Rakitic 8, Iniesta 7, Messi 9, Suarez 7, Alcacer 6 (Gomes 70).
Subs not used: Cillessen, Suarez, Turan, Mascherano, Digne, Alena.
Booked: Umtiti, Messi
Goals: Messi (30, 90+2), Rakitic (73)
STAR MAN: Messi (Barcelona)