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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