El Clasico is the most hyped league fixture on the planet and, to be fair, it does occasionally live up to its billing… never more so, however, than the meeting of Real Madrid and Barcelona back on 24 March 2014.
Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona (Santiago Bernabeu): A Lionel Messi hat trick, three penalties and a Sergio Ramos red card, this one had it all.
Going into the game, Barcelona trailed their table topping rivals by four points with just ten games left to play. They knew a defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu may end their title hopes altogether, with Atletico Madrid also going strong in La Liga.
With the stakes so high one might have expected a cagey affair but Andres Iniesta’s strike inside seven minutes put any notion of that to bed. Messi was instrumental in the goal, threaded one of his trademark through balls to Iniesta, who then unleashed a powerful finish which satisfyingly clipped the underside of the bar on its way in.
This set the tone for an end to end game. Both Messi and Karim Benzema spurned good chances before the latter atoned for his error by nodded home with 20 minutes on the clock. Victor Valdes was at fault for this one. Despite getting a hand to the strike, his papadum wrists could not prevent it nestling in the back of the net.
There was nothing Valdes could do about Benzema’s second goal, which came just four minutes later. The Frenchman controlled Angel Di Maria’s cross with his thigh before swivelling round and volleying an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Carlo Ancelotti certainly enjoyed it, bringing out a passionate double fist pump on the sideline.
Before the half time whistle there was time for plenty more drama as well. First, Benzema was denied a hat trick when Gerard Pique cleared his scrappy effort off the line, before Messi levelled up the scores in clinical fashion.
Driving from deep, La Pulga avoid several crunching challenges to lay it off for Neymar. Although the Brazilian could not provide the finish, Messi made no mistake when the ball popped up nicely in the box, taking one precise touch and sliding it into the bottom corner.
Of course, as this was El Clasico, the goal sparked an 11-man brawl with Sergio Ramos, Neymar and Dani Alves heavily involved.
Both managers would have been keen to calm things down in the second half but whatever they said at the break it did not work. We were treated to a tranquil 10 minutes without the net bulging before Alves was judged to have tripped Ronaldo in the box. It was soft. Very soft actually, but Ronaldo did not care, powering past Valdes to restore his side’s lead.
The tide then turned when Ramos was sent off for a much more obvious foul on Neymar in the box. The challenge also earned him one of the many red cards he has received during his career and Messi compounded his misery by blasting home from 12 yards.
A draw probably would have been a fair result, However, Barcelona had other ideas. They pushed Real hard with Dani Alves hitting the post with an outrageous long shot. Eventually their persistence would pay off when Iniesta was brought down to win the third penalty of the second half.
As he had 20 minutes earlier, Messi converted, lifting the ball high out of the reach of Diego Lopez to seal the three points…
The victory moved Barcelona to within one point of Real but it also opened the door for Atletico Madrid, who went top of La Liga courtesy of a 2-0 win over Real Betis.
Los Rojiblancos would do enough to remain top of the pile for the rest of the season as well, securing their first title since 1996 in the process.
As for the Clasico rivals, they finished the season level on points and were separated by just one goal difference. Real would go on enact their revenge over their city rivals, beating Atletico in the Champions League final. They would also best Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, securing the trophy with a nowhere near as dramatic 2-1 win, in which Gareth Bale scored that goal.