Kessié and Serg put Barça on the verge

LaLiga leaders Barcelona boosted their gap from eternal rivals Real Madrid to a mammoth 12 points with a 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou, sealed at the death by a Franck Kessie tap-in, which also secured the Blaugrana’s 100th El Clásico win in history.

With Los Blancos reportedly joining legal action taken against Barcelona for allegedly influencing officials, this latest instalment of El Clásico was unusually rich in off-field drama, even by the fixture’s own superlative standards. A ferocious opening to this pivotal clash therefore came as no surprise, and the hosts initially overran Carlo Ancelotti’s side in a hostile atmosphere, as Barcelona mounted pressure in front of a roaring home faithful.

But after Thibaut Courtois thwarted efforts from Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, Barcelona were hit by a sucker punch when Ronald Araújo’s block sent Vinícius Júnior’s cross into his own net. While that gave Real a huge degree of confidence, the Catalans persevered and found a leveller in first-half stoppage time, when Sergi Roberto fired in his first El Clásico goal after a tension-packed pinball session in the visitors’ area.

Barcelona now had the momentum, and carried out Xavi’s orders by dominating the ball under the Nou Camp lights. Meanwhile, the visitors – still recovering from their European exploits against Liverpool in midweek – had to defend valiantly to survive the waves of blue and garnet that flooded their area in the second-half. Ever the consummate expert of negotiating high-pressure situations, Carlo Ancelotti rang the changes just after the hour mark.

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One of those substitutes, Rodrygo, ought to have done better with his first real involvement in the game, blasting high and wide when presented with acres of room in the Barcelona penalty area. With Real growing in stature once again, the hosts heeded that warning by regrouping at the back, and conjured the sort of resilience that has seen them avoid conceding a league goal from open play at home this season.

Barcelona seemed unbothered that they were potentially spurning a landmark El Clásico victory with such an approach. However, it wouldn’t be a Clásico clash without some late drama, and after Marco Asensio’s late goal was ruled out by VAR, Franck Kessié struck a late winner with Real having flooded numbers forward. Twelve points is now the gap that UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists Real must negotiate, and with Barcelona contrastingly free of European commitments, the LaLiga crown must surely now be heading back to Catalonia.

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