Madrid, Apr 10 (EFE).- Defending champions Real Madrid withstood a late onslaught by Barcelona here Saturday to prevail 2-1 and edge ahead of Atletico Madrid into first place in LaLiga.
Barça came into the season’s second edition of the Clasico unbeaten in their last 19 matches in LaLiga, but they conceded twice in a first half they’d like to forget and saw the cross-bar spoil their chance for a last-second equalizer.
The Blancos can savor the first league double over their archrivals since 2007-2008 while they await the outcome of Sunday’s match between Atletico and Real Betis.
Zinedine Zidane’s decision to bolster the midfield with Fede Valverde was decisive in enabling Real Madrid to implement the coach’s strategy to overcome his squad’s tired legs after their exhausting Champions League clash with Liverpool.
In the 13th minute, Valverde charged into the offensive zone and passed to Lucas Vazquez, who crossed to Karim Benzema at the far post. The Frenchman converted with a deft back-heel effort to extend his scoring streak to seven matches.
Vinicius drew a foul in the 26th minute, winning a free kick for the Blancos just outside the area.
Toni Kroos took the shot, which deflected off the back of Barça’s Sergiño Dest and into the net as goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen watched helplessly.
The second goal left Barcelona dazed and only the post stopped Valverde from making it 3-0 in the 34th minute. Ter Stegen was able to deny Vazquez on the follow-up.
Barcelona captain Lionel Messi was barely a factor until first-half stoppage time, when the Argentine came close to getting an Olympic goal – scoring directly from a corner kick – seconds before forcing a save from Thibaut Courtois.
Visiting coach Ronald Koeman made a substitution to start the second half, swapping out a defender – Dest – for an attacking player, Antoine Griezmann, and the insertion of the France international improved the Barça attack.
The Blaugrana finally got on the scoreboard at the hour mark, when Griezmann allowed Jordi Alba’s cross to go through to an unguarded Oscar Mingueza who hammered home.
Two minutes later, the post stopped Vinicius from restoring the two-goal margin for Real Madrid, who won a corner that Alba transformed into a chance for Barcelona, forcing Courtois into action.
Ronald Araujo shut down Benzema in the 66th minute, a few minutes before making way for 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba, who got his head to a Messi corner in the 75th, only to send the ball into the arms of Courtois.
The Blancos still led at the end of regulation, but they faced stoppage time a man down, as Casemiro was sent off after picking up a pair of yellow cards for successive fouls against Messi and Mingueza.
Courtois bobbled a Messi free kick in the 91st minute and a foul on Moriba in the 94th handed Barça one last opportunity.
Moriba hit the cross-bar and the ball fell to Ter Stegen, whose shot was blocked by one of his own teammates, before ending up with Alba, who fired over the goal with the final kick of the match.