LA LIGA REVIEW

Another ‘clásico,’ another Barça loss

Lackluster Liga leader suffers second defeat to Real Madrid in five days

Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos (r) celebrates with Real Madrid's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric after scoring the second goal against Barcelona. / JAVIER SORIANO (AFP)

The alarm bells are getting louder at Barcelona. The Catalans looked a ruin tactically, physically and mentally as they lost their second clásico in less than a week to a late Sergio Ramos header in the Bernabéu on Saturday.

After Tuesday’s King’s Cup semifinal defeat, this time the 2-1 loss carried the added ignominy of being inflicted by a B version of Real Madrid, the home team’s starting lineup missing Xabi Alonso, Mesut Özil, and Cristiano Ronaldo — all rested ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League return leg against Manchester United.

The Barça players’ anger after referee Miguel Ángel Pérez Lasa failed to blow when Sergio Ramos brought down Adriano in the area in the closing moments — an event that led to goalkeeper Víctor Valdés’ red-carding for dissent after the final whistle — seemed to sum up their desperation. A spot kick may have allowed them to tie the match, but it didn’t hide the overall lack of invention shown in the previous 90 minutes.

We have won two clásicos but we still haven’t attained anything"

Sergio Ramos

It took Real just six minutes to take the lead as, after a run down the left, 20-year-old Álvaro Morata crossed for Karim Benzema to neatly tuck away. Lionel Messi brought Barça level 12 minutes later — a strike that marked his 50th goal of the season and equaled Real legend Alfredo Di Stefano’s record of 18 goals in clásico matches — but it was the high point of an otherwise lackluster performance from the Argentinean star.

In the end it was up to his Portuguese nemesis Ronaldo, who came off the bench with a half hour to go, to bring some life to the afternoon, forcing a save from Valdés and hitting the post with two blistering long-range free kicks. Ramos’s winner finally arrived eight minutes from the end as the Andalusian rose up to divert Luka Modric’s corner past Valdés.

The result: a Real three points closer to the top of the table and brimming with confidence ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League jaunt to Old Trafford; and a Barça perhaps now wondering whether its Liga lead is quite as unassailable as everyone has been saying.

“Yes, it’s boosted us for Tuesday,” said captain-for-the-day Ramos, who also added a note of caution. “The team is enjoying a tremendously satisfying spell [...] Now more than ever we have to keep out feet on the ground. We have won two clásicos but we still haven’t attained anything. One clásico has allowed us to reach the cup final and the other to close the gap on Barça in the league to 13 points. But there is still a lot left: a whole season ahead of us.”

On Sunday, second-place Atlético Madrid failed to fully capitalize on Barcelona’s slip-up, closing the gap by just one point to 11 after a goalless tie with Málaga at La Rosaleda.

The previous day Athletic Bilbao had added a dose of much-needed cheer to its disastrous season with a 0-1 win away at Osasuna that lifted it clear of the relegation zone. A spectacular cross from Ibai gave Markel Susaeta the opportunity to score 18 minutes into the second half, while returning goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz ensured all three points for the visitor with a couple of decisive saves.

Later on Saturday, the derby between Valencia and Levante at Mestalla ended in a 2-2 tie, a result that better suited the latter than the home side, who failed to jump ahead of fourth-place Málaga. Roberto Soldado volleyed home to give Valencia the lead just before the break after Jonas had canceled out Vicente Iborra’s opener. But José Javier Barkero leveled for Levante two minutes from time.

Other results: Granada 1-2 Mallorca; Espanyol 0-0 Valladolid; Getafe 2-0 Zaragoza; Deportivo 0-0 R.Vallecano.

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