Madrid makes the most of Messi's weak offer to revive the La Liga title race

Madrid makes the most of Messi's weak offer to revive the La Liga title race

The Argentine was strangely out of sorts as Barcelona slumped to a 2-0 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu that saw the hosts move above them within the table

This was a free hit for Barcelona but Real Madrid’s season was on the line. that they had to dig deep, and that they did.

Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz’s goals earned them a 2-0 Clasico victory which took them a point beyond their bitter rivals at the highest of the Liga table and gave them the higher head-to-head record, which might be crucial in such a decent title race.

Certainly, there's little to settle on between the 2 teams, as Sunday's game showed. This entertaining, end-to-end battle at the Santiago Bernabeu between two clearly flawed teams could have gone either way.

Usually, when that’s the case, Lionel Messi is that the deciding factor, but Argentina didn’t look himself, delivering an unusually lethargic, almost lifeless display.

There are persistent stories that he’s not fully fit and is carrying a thigh problem, one which is clearly not serious enough to prevent him from playing – but might just be throwing him off his perfectly calibrated best.

There was one moment that emphasized that clearly. With Madrid ahead, Frenkie de Jong burst downfield, piling past Madrid players and feeding Messi with an ideal through ball.

Nearly 80,000 within the stadium and many millions around the world held their breath, expecting Argentina star to race clear and fire home, as he has done numerous times within the past.

But Messi was tracked by Marcelo, Zinedine Zidane’s surprise pick before Ferland Mendy. Perhaps the coach was trying to find the attacking upside instead of worrying about the left back's defensive deficiencies but the Brazilian put one within the eyes of his doubters.

Marcelo stayed alongside Messi and helped dispossess him before celebrating wildly as if he had scored a goal. This was worth more, and he knew it.

Marcelo’s contribution made it clear this was an evening for Madrid players to redeem themselves after the meltdown against Manchester City within the Champions League on Wednesday.

Casemiro played poorly that day but stood up huge within the second half here, helping to interrupt down Barcelona attacks as they tried to fight back to the game.

Toni Kroos, who was dropped for the city loss, helped Madrid perform at a way higher level during this clash, exposure big despite his disappointment at not starting in midweek.

Isco continued his revival and was afforded an ovation by the Bernabeu as he departed, only denied a goal himself by one excellent Marc-Andre Ter Stegen save and Gerard Pique’s goalline clearance.

The Barcelona defender had excelled, blocking everything, intercepting everything, serving a one-man wall which Madrid was unable to knock down until he threw it all away for Vinicius’s goal.

Nelson Semedo, who had also impressed, was caught out of position with Vinicius in behind, and Pique bizarrely elected against closing down the Brazilian teenager until it had been far too late.

Maybe he was scared of getting too tight and being beaten by a burst of speed, or being drawn into a foul, but he should have done more to urge on the brink of the winger before he shot.

In the end, he was punished for his hesitation as Vinicius’s effort deflected off Pique and into the Barcelona net, leaving Ter Stegen with no chance.

At 19 years and 233 days old, Vinicius became the youngest player to attain within the Clasico within the 21st century. He was one among the few players that offered something against City too, fixing Isco’s goal.

Madrid deserved the lead for his or her pressure after the break, having seen Isco go close twice then Karim Benzema volley narrowly over, while Ter Stegen made an honest stop to stay Sergio Ramos cornered.

Barcelona had the majority of the probabilities within the first half, with Antoine Griezmann, Arthur and Messi all with clear-cut opportunities. Promising for the Catalans, but nothing tangible and Madrid were always dangerous on the counter.

They took advantage of Barcelona’s desperation and tiredness at the end, with substitute Mariano – on his first league appearance of the season – racing away from Samuel Umtiti to double the hosts' advantage in injury time.

This was how deep Madrid had to travel, with Eden Hazard injured, Karim Benzema and Luka Jovic badly out of form, and Gareth Bale not trusted.

Mariano killed the game – but breathed life back to the title race.

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