By Ben Hayward
But its fans were soon silenced. Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo, two players accused of failing to step up in such epic encounters, combined majestically to put Real Madrid back in front. This was huge.
Madrid came into the game with a four-point lead in La Liga, having been ahead by 10 just a few weeks ago. Jose Mourinho's men were looking nervy and tired, too, as they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Fatigue, though, was not an issue, claimed Aitor Karanka in Friday's prematch press conference as he stood in for Mourinho. And his players proved him right on Saturday as the Portuguese sent out the same XI he had picked at the Allianz Arena, and saw them shine.
Pretty it may not have been, but gritty it most certainly was. Madrid began brightly, dominated the early exchanges and made a statement of intent. They may have been heavily criticized for defensive tactics and negativity against Barca in the past under Mourinho, but not this time. No: this time they were here to win.
In a first half in which the home side saw 78 percent of the possession but failed to hit the target once, Madrid went ahead through, of all people, Sami Khedira. The German was an unlikely hero as he got ahead of a sleepy Carles Puyol and poked home after Victor Valdes had failed to hold on to Pepe's header, but the midfielder symbolized the sacrifice and the fight needed by Madrid on a night of such significance.
Out of my hands ... | But Guardiola's team selection helped Madrid take controlLittle changed in the second period as Cristian Tello proved that, although a promising prospect, he is not yet the man for a big occasion such as this one. The young forward squandered a fantastic opportunity as he went clear in the area but failed to hit the target, and Barca looked short of inspiration.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, was restricted to long-range efforts and other than putting through Xavi for a great chance in the first half, the Argentine was strangely subdued for the second time in a week and it's now four Clasico clashes in a row without a goal for the man from Rosario.
Alexis, who had been doubtful after picking up a bad knock against Chelsea on Wednesday, then came off the bench to provide the inspiration which had been badly lacking, poking home after Adriano had sent a loose ball back into the area following an Iker Casillas save.
The Camp Nou cheered as the Catalans sensed another famous comeback. "We are and we will be," a mosaic had proclaimed before the match. But this time, they were not. Ozil pinged a precious pass through to Cristiano, who coolly rounded Valdes and slid home from an acute angle to silence the stadium and thrust his side into the ascendancy once more.
Barca was unable to react this time, shocked psychologically and stunned into submission by a Madrid side who deserved a win which many thought it was incapable of gaining here in Catalunya. It was a triumph of toil and tenacity, a victory crafted by Mourinho, and a first win for the Portuguese coach at Camp Nou following previous disappoints in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League and the Spanish Supercopa here.
It came 12 months and a day after his first success over Barca as Madrid coach, as Real claimed the Copa del Rey with an extra-time win at Mestalla on April 20 last year. That was big because it saw the capital club end their hoodoo against their eternal enemies, and brought a first piece of silverware to the Santiago Bernabeu since 2008.
But this was even bigger. A win at Camp Nou will finally silence the doubters and much more importantly, it all but means that La Liga will be heading to the Bernabeu at the end of the season as Barca now need to close a seven-point gap in just four matches. Guardiola had previously claimed winning La Liga would be impossible. Now it is. And Madrid deserved it.
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