Our Real Madrid reporter Joseph Walker analyses their 2-1 win at Barcelona and wonders if a new-found grit can catapult Zinédine Zidane's side to honours next month.
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Defence the best form of attack
Zinédine Zidane became the first Real Madrid coach since Bernd Schuster to win his debut Clásico in charge and it was evident that the Frenchman learned lessons from the side's 4-0 home hammering in the reverse fixture. He set the side up in a compact way to not allow Barcelona's front three – Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez – any space whatsoever and deployed the outstanding Casemiro as a shield in front of the back four.
Gareth Bale and winning scorer Cristiano Ronaldo could also be seen frequently tracking back to deny Barça's marauding full-backs space to exploit in what was a disciplined display. Despite enjoying just 38% possession, Madrid were set up to frustrate and hit Barcelona on the counterattack – and that is exactly what they did.
Barcelona beaten at last
The Liga leaders went into the game unbeaten in 39 games in all competitions: a Spanish record. Their last defeat had come at the hands of Sevilla on 3 October last year, a result that spurred them onto FIFA Club World Cup glory, that 4-0 Clásico victory at the Bernabéu and the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
When Gerard Piqué nodded them in front after 56 minutes, it seemed business as usual; however, a stirring comeback from eternal rivals Real Madrid, who netted through Karim Benzema and Ronaldo, put paid to that. The Merengues will take great satisfaction in being the side that finally stopped Barcelona, as well as moving to within seven points of the Liga lead.
UEFA Champions League consequences
Barcelona must dust themselves off and be ready to host the side that eliminated them from the last eight two seasons ago, Atlético Madrid, in 72 hours – not an enticing prospect. While Atlético cruised to a comfortable 5-1 victory at home to Real Betis in the day's early kick-off, Barcelona were put through the ringer and will be downbeat having lost one of the biggest games of the season. Of course, their previous defeat preceded great things and they will hope their latest has a similar effect.
Madrid, meanwhile, will travel to Wolfsburg on Wednesday full of renewed zest and verve after showing tremendous character to come from behind against their arch-rivals. Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale all look to be hitting form and they could not have wished for a better boost.
Liga title race just about still open
There are seven games to go in the Liga season and while Barcelona hold a six-point advantage over Atlético in second, the side from the capital will sense they can go for broke in their pursuit of Luis Enrique's side, perhaps thinking back to two years ago when after their European quarter-final success, they then beat the Blaugrana to Liga first place. Diego Simeone will know his side have to be perfect during the run-in, but they will remain hopeful and ready to pounce at any further slip-ups.
Real Madrid, a point behind Atlético, will also keep a keen eye on the title situation and no doubt fancy their chances of catching Barcelona should they drop more points.