Rakitic, Pique give Barcelona backbone in Clasico win vs. Real Madrid
Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal of the game as Barcelona beat Real Madrid for the second time in four days, having won 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg on Wednesday.
Rakitic ran on to a Sergi Roberto pass and lifted the ball over Thibaut Courtois in the first half to move Barca 12 points clear of Madrid in the table and 10 ahead of Atletico Madrid, who are second and play on Sunday.
Beyond the consequences this result could have on title race -- it effectively eliminates Madrid from the running -- this was a better performance than Wednesday, with more control. In the end, despite Madrid applying late pressure, it was fairly comfortable.
The return of Arthur in midfield helped in that sense, while Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet were superb in defence, along with Rakitic in midfield. Their form bodes well as talk of a treble gets louder around Camp Nou.
It felt like Barca were playing with their foot off the gas at times in the second half and things might have been easier if they pushed for a second. In that sense, the front three were not as clinical as they often are and there were also some worrying moments for Lionel Messi, who appeared to be affected by injury at times.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Ernesto Valverde made one change from Wednesday's win but, in truth, it made for two actual switches, with Arthur coming in for Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto moving to right-back. It struck the right balance -- Barca gave too many chances away in midweek -- and set the tone for the win.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating.)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Did not have a great deal to do in terms of shot stopping, but would have been annoyed with himself had he not saved any of the Madrid efforts that were on target.
DF Sergi Roberto, 7 -- Relocated to right-back after playing the midweek Clasico in midfield, he did a good job of minimising the threat of Vinicius Junior. As a bonus, he set up Rakitic's goal with a smart pass.
DF Gerard Pique, 9 -- The centre-back is not Barcelona's captain but this was another performance full of leadership. He got in the way of everything, never panicked on the ball and was in constant communication with defensive colleagues. There might have been a few hearts in mouths when he dribbled across the face of goal late on, mind you!.
DF Clement Lenglet, 8 -- Cleared and blocked almost everything that came his way, even taking two painful blows to the ribs in the name of good defending.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 -- You always get the feeling he is slightly inhibited in an attacking sense when playing behind Ousmane Dembele, but in defence he was part of a brilliant four-man unit that kept Madrid out for the second game running.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- Started by giving a dangerous free kick away on the edge of the box and losing the ball a couple of times. He improved after that, but is still short of his best form.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Took his goal really well, dinking over Courtois, but his performance was about more than his goal. Always available in defence and attack, Rakitic linked both ends of the pitch and continued his good run of form.
MF Arthur Melo, 7 -- Impressive showing considering this was his first start in a month following injury; he helped Barca control large parts of the game in his 70 minutes on the pitch.
FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Had his moments and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, but for the second straight Clasico was unable to offer the spark he so often has done in this fixture.
FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Stung Courtois' hands with a first-half strike from the edge of the box but did not have many other chances to get his name on the scoresheet, having already netted five times against Madrid this season.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 6 -- Did not make the same impact as on Wednesday, when he set up two goals, but his pace always offers outlet. He had a decent chance to make it 2-0 but skewed his shot just wide with Suarez well-placed in the middle.
MF Arturo Vidal, 6 -- A good late cameo, protecting the defence and helping Barcelona hold on.
FW Philippe Coutinho, NR -- Replaced Dembele for the final 10 minutes and missed a late chance having been set up by Messi.
DF Nelson Semedo, NR -- Introduced in stoppage time to run the clock down.