Messi wins Clasico in final minute with 500th goal for Barcelona


It was a night where Lionel Messi who has had an indifferent start to 2017 turned it on at the highest stage as he helped Barcelona to a thrilling 3-2 win over Real Madrid to split open the title race.

Messi had entered the game at Santiago Bernabeu with a black eye, he left it with a few less teeth, cuts and bruises and his 500th goal of his Barcelona career.

Real Madrid knew that with a 3 point advantage over Barcelona and a game in hand that a win here would in theory give them their first Liga title since 2012. At the very least two feet would be sliding through the door. And the European champions started brightly, like a barrage of prisoners let free on Alcatraz, Madrid did everything to rattle Barca’s defence- a deafening Madrid support helped too.

Madrid took the lead after 28 minutes from an unlikely hero in Carlos Casemiro, and the stadium erupted. It lasted for 300 seconds that’s what it took for Messi to swerve his way through to the Madrid area and score a quite spectacular goal that took out three players. By this point Messi was reportedly missing a couple of teeth after he caught Marcelo’s elbow. The challenge looked dubuios from the Real Madrid defender, and the sight of seeing Messi, blood pouring from his mouth as he pay on the pitch, did not look good. But the player dusted himself down to get an equaliser, complete with sponge in soaked in his mouth to relive the cuts.

A breathtaking first half had ended and the second started again with Madrid taking the game by the scruff of the neck and dictating the pace. By now it was a miracle that Madrid were not down to 10 men after Casemiro’s challenges should have seen the goalscorer taking an early shower. Madrid would get that wish so to speak when Sergio Ramos a player that has sadly built his career on red cards was sent off after a terrible challenge on Messi.

And against the play it was the away team that took the lead after a beautiful curving shot from Ivan Rakitic was just too good. The Croatian did not celebrate as one expected, probably knowing that his goal might not be good enough to win the tie. Madrid roared back and so did Barca, as the final quarter of an hour was charged with more electricity than is used to run the city of Madrid. Both goal keepers were kept busy, as both sets of defenders were not up to the job, clearly every chance looked like being a goal. That the game was kept to just 5 was some sort of miracle.

With five minutes to go Madrid seemingly broke Barca hearts after James slotted in for 2-2. A draw at this point felt like victory for Madrid. And what about Cristiano Ronaldo? Apart from a couple of clear cut chances that were uncharacteristically missed from the Portuguese he was fairly quiet on the night that he was obliged to show up.

In the final moments Messi reminded the world of his genius and got his 2nd goal of the night after great team work. Messi celebrated with his shirt off, he knew that he had struck gold at the right moment, on the right day and at the right time. Now La Liga is a title open once again even if Madrid do have the game in hand. Psychologically it is Barcelona’s name they will see top of the standings on goal difference, and right now it seems Barcelona have found a new wind to go on and claim another title. And yet, well, you just never know what’s round the corner in what is Barca coach Luis Enrique’s final season with the club.

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Barcelona prepare to take on Atletico Madrid in must win game of the season


It has been by far a routine season for Barcelona, a team that are suffering an identity crisis, a team who seem to dazzle one moment and look lacklustre the next and a team who aren’t sure where the next 3 points are coming from.

All is not well in the Camp Nou. Lionel Messi has had to save them recently when displays by Luis Suarez and especially Neymar have come up short. Coach Luis Enrique has been under intense pressure. There is a feeling from the fans that he is not wanted any more. His tactics have been questioned- Why does he repeatedly leave out Ivan Rakitic? Gerard Pique didn’t start the last game and their latest purchase Andre Gomes has had some horrific moments in the famous colours.

There are of course in the final of the Copa del Rey and will be expected to win against Alaves. If they do, it would be their 29th domestic cup victory- and their third in a row.

All of this is very well but the supporters demand the league title and the Champions League. In La Liga Real Madrid have been so dominant that Barca’s season try as hard as they might feels like nothing more than a footnote. And yet with football being football the tables were turned on its head slightly when Madrid capitulated at Valencia in mid-week and all of a sudden Barcelona are just a point behind but having still played a game more. At worst and in theory there is a four point gap.

But do Barcelona believe it? That is the real question. There has been an air of wanting change this season, which has affected the club’s performances on the pitch. Is it true that Messi is seeking a transfer away from the club, something unthinkable a few seasons ago. It is highly possible that Enrique will be playing out his final season- because even if you are a success here, you usually know when it’s time to leave.

And then there is the Champions League, a competition they have won 4 times in the past decade, but they look to be heading out of that this year. PSG a team that Barca used to play as the great pretenders destroyed them 4-0 and the second leg even if Barca will now be at home looks a formality.

So the league may well be back on, but who is believing it? We may get some kind of closure this weekend when the Catalan giants travel to Atletico Madrid- Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. The match is being touted as the biggest test of Barcelona’s season so far- and it is. A loss here and a Real Madrid win at Villarreal would cancel out the Madrid’s Valencia loss and the league would be again a distant dream for Barca.

It is a game that Atletico must win too, with the league looking increasingly difficult for them their priority will be qualifying for the Champions League next season. Real Sociedad are breathing down their necks and the re-emergence of  Sevilla who entered this weekend in 2nd place has made every team take notice.

Even the very best Barcelona sides have struggled at Vicente Caldron, which will in fact be the last time that these two great teams play each other here. Atletico are due to switch to their brand new stadium next week.

On Sunday Barcelona will be asked, no demanded to put in a performance that sends a message to Real Madrid that they will not give their title up this easy. Because despite how solid Barca has been, and despite Messi being a saving grace in moments one gets the feeling that the team are forcibly pulling themselves over the winning line without wanting to pass it in first place.

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Cristiano Ronaldo wins Ballon d’Or for the 4th time ahead of Lionel Messi


In the end as Cristiano Ronaldo held up his 4th Ballon d’Or it was no surprise to anyone in attendance that the Portuguese star was voted in as the best player in the world. Indeed if any other player had been chosen the fallout could have lasted until next December.

Who else but Ronaldo who not only won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2016 but also claimed an historic international trophy when Portugal won Euro 2016. This summer’s win over host nation France in the final was Portugal’s first ever major trophy. Whilst the competition will be littered with memories of Ronaldo’s drive and goals it will also be remembered for his encouragement managerial style from the sidelines in that final when he had to leave the pitch after an early injury.

And then there are the goals which Ronaldo of course loves, he has scored 51 so far for club and country this year and scored this season alone two hat tricks and counting. Real Madrid who are currently six points clear in La Liga are on course to win the league for the first time since 2012.

In winning the trophy it meant that this was the 9th year when only two players had picked up the top prize, either Ronaldo or Messi. Messi has five titles. The last player to win outside these two was Kaka in 2007 when he was playing for Italians AC Milan.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi had to settle for 2nd place, but the truth was that the Argentinian would have already had an inkling of what was to happen. This despite winning four trophies in a year including the league and Copa del Rey Cup double and a FIFA World Club Cup. The problem though was that Messi who also scored more goals in this calendar year than Ronaldo could not fix the problem which was Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Here Barca predictably limped out as champions to Diego Simeone’s tactics.

The misery continued when at international level Messi had the superb opportunity to win the Copa America with Argentina. But alas Chile who had beaten them also in 2015 were victorious and this led Messi to retire from international football- this lasted only a few months though.

Antoine Griezmann was deservedly in third place. The young Frenchman was a breath of fresh air at Euro 2016 and led his nation to the final where they ultimately but narrowly lost to Portugal. But this couldn’t take away that Griezmann with his dashing fair hair and an appetite for goal was one of the lasting memories of the tournament. Griezmann was also pivotal for his club side Atletico Madrid emerging as a star despite losing another Champions League final to their bitter rivals Real Madrid.

The full Ballon D’or list:

1 – Cristiano Ronaldo

2 –  Lionel Messi

3 – Antoine Griezmann

4 – Luis Suárez

5 – Neymar

6 – Gareth Bale

7 – Riyad Mahrez

8 – Jamie Vardy

9= – Pepe

9= – Gianluigi Buffon

11 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

12 – Rui Patricio

13 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

14= – Arturo Vidal

14= – Paul Pogba

16 –   Robert Lewandowski

17= – Dimitri Payet

17= – Toni Kroos

17= – Luka Modric

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