This wasn’t the kind of night that helps you come to a conclusion about who is better. Lionel Messi outplayed and outscored Cristiano Ronaldo, but it’s just one match. Barcelona beat Real Madrid and were the better side, but the final answer will be given when this season is over. But Clasico matches create legends and myths that last for years; the Argentine star played his part. The Portuguese one? Not so much.
But what made Lionel Messi so much better than Cristiano Ronaldo in this match? Scoring a hat trick and providing the assist to the opening goal might do it, compared with Ronaldo only scoring one goal, but it’s more than just the numbers. It was the overall influence, coming in a performance from both sides playing to their strengths. Maybe above everything was that red card to Sergio Ramos, but if there was a foul on Neymar at that moment (and I think there was), that sending off was completely justified.
Lionel Messi wasn’t very involved. It was one of those matches in which he walks his way out of sight, only to come out of nowhere and create magic with every time he is involved in a play. The assist to Andres Iniesta in the opening goal, the pass to Neymar that set up the equalizer in the first half. Every time Messi escaped the cluster around him at the edge of the box which forced the Real Madrid defense to open up, something good happened.
Cristiano Ronaldo? Simply not his day. He did score from a penalty kick, but he was fouled outside the box in one of the mistakes by the official. Ronaldo could have gone on to try and shoot at Valdes after that small trip from Dani Alves, but in his usual fashion, preferred the dive.
But other than that? A couple of long range shots that didn’t really bother Valdes, and that was it. Hardly any moments of clever movement to open up space for a teammate, nothing when it comes to accurate crossing or passing that created chances for others. Ronaldo tired to do everything on his own, for himself. Like in so many other matches, especially against Barcelona in the league (he does much better against them in cup competitions), that me and me alone attitude simply didn’t work.
There was more to this match then just the two superstars. The way Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso fluctuated in their influence seemed to be the indicator of how well Real Madrid were doing at certain moments. Benzema did score twice, but missed three times from very comfortable situations. Angel Di Maria was huge in those good minutes from Real Madrid, but at some point Barcelona stopped neglecting that wing and his influence was curtailed.
On the Barcelona side of the pitch, Andres Iniesta and Xavi were at their best. The passing, the accuracy, and the ability to push at the right moments. Xavi can’t do this on a regular basis anymore, but when he doesn’t make any mistakes, you know he was having a good day. Iniesta scored, and provided a few touches and movements that are still unique only to him.
And there were even some defensive heroics for Barcelona, despite conceding three goals. Javier Mascherano isn’t a centre back and never will be – nothing is going to change that. But Jordi Alba had an amazing performance, making Gareth Bale look useless, just like in the first Clasico. Gerard Pique always takes tons of criticism, but he was splendid in almost every opportunity.
The championship race is wide open because Real Madrid always fell back after taking the lead instead of constantly pushing, and not because of the referee. However, Barcelona are still underdogs in this one, and might end up sweeping the Clasico and still not winning the title for the first time since 1983.