In the end it was a tight and tense affair, but a brilliant Luis Suarez finish ensured a 2-1 Barcelona win over Real Madrid and a four-point advantage over their great rival at the top of La Liga.
The control of the game switched from side to side on a number of occasions, and it would be easy to say Madrid were slightly the better side in the first while Barca were stronger in the second. It needed one piece of class to separate the two, and Suarez produced it.
Barcelona defended better at crucial times and performed slightly better as a unit, but it was a tough battle that could have gone either way. Now the club have 10 games left to defend their lead.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Claudio Bravo, 8 — Needed to make world-class saves to keep Ronaldo out in the first half and twice from Benzema in the second, the last of which took a wicked deflection and looked to have evaded the Chilean.
DF Dani Alves, 8 — Few opportunities to get forward with Ronaldo to look after but defensively superb to keep him quiet and produced a brilliant pass from deep to supply Suarez for the winner.
DF Jordi Alba, 7 — Almost wrapped things up in the final minutes with an incredible burst from deep, tactically intelligent to make sure Madrid had no luck down his flank.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 8 — Got a fantastic header for his first league goal for Barcelona and the opener of the night. His performance grew from that moment, strong defensively both in the air and on the ground, although nowhere to be seen when Madrid broke quickly for the leveller.
DF Gerard Pique, 8 — Apart from losing Benzema for Madrid’s leveller, he was a rock at the back with infinite blocks, tackles and headers. Made a tremendous last-gasp challenge on Gareth Bale just after their equaliser and controlled everything from then on.
MF Javier Mascherano, 7 — Calm with a cool head in the middle that was needed at times when Madrid looked to be getting on top, but Barca missed Busquets’ quick movement of the ball at times.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 7 — Got through a lot of running due to having to help out defensively and keep Ronaldo quiet, but that meant he struggled to impose some control on proceedings in the middle of the pitch.
MF Andres Iniesta, 8 — Suffered an early knock and found it hard to make much impression but grew in the second half, in which he had to show a not-often-seen physical side to his game and kept the ball moving with intelligent play through the left channel.
FW Luis Suarez, 9 — The match winner with a superb finish to edge the game. Suarez was busy throughout, held the ball up expertly and demonstrated world-class finishing that could mean a La Liga title for his new team at the end of the season.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 — Had a quiet first half, apart from the inch-perfect free kick that found Matthieu’s head for the opener, but created more in the second and produced some wonderful dribbles down the right to frustrate Madrid.
FW Neymar, 8 — Missed a chance to double Barca’s lead just before Madrid’s equaliser but made up for that with some brilliant running in the second period. Drew the visitors into some yellow cards with some slaloming dribbles, almost finished one and deserved his ovation when substituted near the end.
MF Sergio Busquets, NR — A shame he did not make it back from injury in time to start, Barca missed his influence but he will be available for the important games to come.
MF Xavi Hernandez, NR — Brought on to exert some control and see the game out, did just that and cheekily robbed the ball off Madrid with a back flick in the last minute.
MF, Rafinha, NR — Given just six minutes to add some fresh legs and give Neymar a rest, sat deep and did his job.
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