A superb diving header from
Cesc Fabregas crowned a stirring 3-1 win for Barcelona
at Real Madrid on Saturday that lifted the champions above their
bitter rivals to the top of La Liga.
Jose Mourinho's Real drew first blood in the opening Clasico of the campaign when Karim Benzema punished a mistake
by Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes to score after 23 seconds.
A trademark weaving run from World Player of the Year Lionel
Messi created Barca's equaliser for Alexis Sanchez after
half-an-hour before Xavi's deflected strike on his 600th
appearance for Barca made it 2-1 eight minutes into the second
Daniel Alves galloped down the right wing and sent over a
deep cross for former Arsenal captain Fabregas to nod in Barca's
third in the 66th minute.
Pep Guardiola's eighth victory in 12 Clasicos since he
took the helm at the end of the 2007/08 season put his Barca
side on 37 points from 16 matches, level with Real, who have a
game in hand, but ahead on goal difference.
Real can restore their three-point lead with a win at
Sevilla next weekend, as European champions Barca head to Japan
for the Club World Cup.
Saturday's defeat ended Real's run of 10 straight league
wins and prevented them from breaking the club record of 15
consecutive victories in all competitions.
"I think we were very superior to Madrid today, despite the
mistake we made in the first minute," Barca playmaker Xavi said
in an interview with Spanish television.
"We wanted to be brave here and we knew we could not win any
other way," added the Spain international.
"The team produced a brilliant performance in all areas of
the pitch and although we know there is a long way still to go
we leave here on a high."
Several hundred million fans around the world tuned in to
watch one of the biggest fixtures in club football, with
Mourinho's Real out to prove there had been a shift in power in
Spain and stretch their lead to six points with a game in hand.
However, Guardiola's side had prepared a different script
and showed their mettle to battle back into the contest at a
packed and hostile Bernabeu stadium.
In a match free of the mass brawls, sendings off and
allegations of bias that marred recent meetings between the
world's biggest-earning clubs, Barca exerted their customary
domination of possession and could have added several goals to
their tally in the closing stages.
Real's former World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo,
joint La Liga top scorer with Messi on 17 goals, had a
frustrating night and missed several good chances, including a
free header midway through the second half.
But it was Barca's night that got off to the worst possible
start when Valdes's howler gifted Real a shock early lead.
The visiting goalkeeper's attempted pass went straight to
Angel di Maria and the Argentine winger's cross eventually found
its way to Benzema who volleyed in from close range.
Barca were level when Messi left several markers for dead
and slipped the ball into space for Sanchez, who galloped
through and sent a powerful low shot past Iker Casillas into the
corner of the net.
Xavi's volley from just outside the penalty area struck Real
defender Marcelo and looped onto a post and into the net and,
after Fabregas's stunning effort, Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi
all went close to scoring a fourth.
In the earlier kick-offs, Valencia ended a miserable week
with another setback when they conceded twice in stoppage-time
to lose 2-1 at La Liga strugglers Real Betis.
Eliminated from the Champions League at Chelsea on Tuesday,
Valencia were closing in on a morale-boosting win after Jose
Antonio Dorado turned the ball into his own net midway through
the second half before striker Ruben Castro bundled in for a
The Canary Islander grabbed a dramatic second in the fourth
minute of added-time when he controlled the ball on his chest
and lashed a shot high into the net past Diego Alves, sending
the home supporters into raptures on a wet night in Seville.
Promoted back to the top flight at the end of last season,
Betis had taken just one point from their previous 10 matches
and Saturday's victory lifted them to 13th on 16 points from 15
matches. Valencia stay third, seven behind Barca and Real.
Surprise package Levante strengthened their hold on Spain's
fourth Champions League qualification berth when they beat
fifth-placed Sevilla 1-0.
Defender Nano was quick to react when the ball broke loose
at a corner in the 56th minute at Levante's Ciutat de Valencia
stadium and he lashed it high into the net to lift Levante to 29
points from 15 matches, five ahead of Sevilla and one behind
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