Both players drew a blank in front of goal last week. But Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's personal experiences in the Camp Nou clásico could not have been more different: the Argentinean played merry hell with Real's defense in his team's majestic 5-0 victory, while the Portuguese cut a smoldering figure and risked being shown a red card for a sullen shove on Barça coach Pep Guardiola.
On Saturday, however, the two forwards got back down to business in earnest as part of their duel to be declared leading Liga marksman. First, Messi bagged a brace in Barcelona's hastily rescheduled match against Osasuna, adding a run-and-hit strike and a penalty to Pedro's opener for a 0-3 win to the champion.
Minutes later in Madrid, Ronaldo found himself with plenty of space to work in after Valencia's David Albelda was harshly sent off for a marginal handball offense, the midfielder's second yellow card. The doughty defensive barrier Unai Emery's men had constructed over the first hour of the game swiftly crumbled and Ronaldo led the charge toward a psychologically invaluable haul of three points from a match that had the potential to compound the misery inflicted on José Mourinho's team last Monday.
Albelda had barely sat down after remonstrating with the officials over his red card when Mesut Özil drove down the middle. He had options either way and slid a smooth pass into the path of Ronaldo, whose left-foot shot was true. Valencia then vanished from the game and Real could have inflated the final score beyond the 2-0 that Ronaldo brought about in the 86th minute, crashing the ball home from the right channel.
The Portuguese forward now averages a goal per game in 43 Liga appearances since signing with Real in the summer of 2009, and his double against Valencia keeps him two ahead of Messi this season with 17 against 15.
For Mourinho, who put out a more conservative team with three players in the central midfield after last week's ultimately disastrous offensive approach at Camp Nou, winning was all that mattered against Valencia. "I didn't want to concede a goal; there wasn't enough self-belief [in the team] to stage a comeback," came the coach's frank explanation.
Guardiola, meanwhile, was furious about an organizational confusion that saw him and his players arrive in Pamplona 20 minutes before kick-off time. The air-travel chaos led the club to believe the game had been postponed until Sunday before word came that this decision had been reversed. The team then had to travel by coach and train. "We come from a country [which is] way up north, a country called Catalonia. We don't call the shots," the coach said.