Barcelona overcame the shock of conceding a goal after just 23 seconds — the fastest in El Clasico history — to defeat bitter rivals Real Madrid 3-1 on Saturday and go top of La Liga.
French striker Karim Benzema scored the early goal to give Real a 1-0 lead after a terrible clearance from Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Alexis Sanchez, who was chosen ahead of David Villa, levelled in the 30th minute after a sublime through ball from Lionel Messi.
A drive from Xavi in the 53rd minute took a wicked deflection off Marcelo and beyond the desperate reach of Iker Casillas in the Real goal as Barcelona went into a 2-1 lead.
Cesc Fabregas added the third in the 65th minute, scoring with a diving header from a fine cross by Dani Alves.
It was the former Arsenal man’s 10th league goal of the campaign.
Real, who now trail Barca on goal difference, still have a game in hand over the reigning champions, but this result brought to an end a 15-match winning streak in all competitions for José Mourinho’s side.
Don’t get carried away
Despite the win Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola urged his team not to get carried away.
He is aware that by the time his side return from the World Club Cup in Japan, Real will probably be back on top.
“Real will be the leaders again if they beat Sevilla,” he said. “There is no point being the ‘champions’ in November or December.”
For the first time in recent years the pressure was on champions Barcelona who knew that a defeat would have a serious bearing on the championship race.
Guardiola had been experimenting with a three-man defence but admitted it would be a risk at the Bernabeu with the strength of the Real attack and he chose instead to field a tried and trusted back four which included Carlos Puyol and Gerard Piqué.
Mourinho chose to play Benzema ahead of Gonzalo Higuain in the Real attack and the Frenchman put the home side ahead straight after the kick off thanks to some poor defending from Barca.
Valdes gave the ball to Angel Di Maria and while his cross was cut out, the ball fell to Mesut Ozil whose shot was saved but the rebound fell to Benzema who slotted home.
Real were buoyant and pressed the Barca backline, a tactic which Guardiola’s men have used successfully against them in previous meetings.
More than anything it was the pace of the Real attack which was terrorising the visitors’ defence but Messi gave Real reason not to get carried away with a trademark run, going round Sergio Ramos, and seeing his strike parried by Casillas.
The home side should have doubled their lead midway through the half when Ronaldo fired wide inside the box with time to pick his spot.
Along with Messi, Sanchez’s runs were a constant problem and he drew Barca level with a clinical finish on the edge of the area after a fine through ball by Messi.
Barca took the lead through a slice of fortune when a Xavi shot flicked off Marcelo’s foot, wrong footing the keeper, and the ball crept into the corner.
Real had the chances to equalise through a Ronaldo header which he failed to keep on target from just ten yards out but Barca were also a danger at the other end.
The visitors extended their lead after Alves burst down the wing and crossed to the back post where Fabregas headed home.
Real Betis’ comeback
Xavi then missed a header himself which could have given a wider victory but Real substitute Kaka also saw a shot well saved by the keeper.
An astonishing injury-time brace from Ruben Castro saw Real Betis come from behind to snatch a 2-1 win over Valencia and end a run of 10 matches without a victory.
Valencia, who are seven points behind Barcelona and Real, were undone in the final minutes.
Betis conceded against the run of play after 65 minutes in the cruellest way with Jose Dorado putting a Jeremy Mathieu cross into his own goal.
The Andalusian side appeared as though they were heading for defeat until Castro finally found his range, knocking in a Juanma Gomez cross in the first minute of time added-on and then grabbed the winner three minutes later after running through on goal.
Levante’s surprising start to the season continued as a scrambled goal by defender Nano Rivas gave them a 1-0 victory over Sevilla which consolidated their fourth place. — AFP