Ronaldo leads Madrid’s 3-1 comeback over Barcelona
MADRID (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo scored to spark Real Madrid’s 3-1 comeback win over Barcelona in a thrilling “clasico” match Saturday that handed the visitors their first loss of the Spanish league season.
The result spoiled a strong Barcelona debut by Luis Suarez, who played well in his first game since a four-month biting ban and set up Neymar to fire in a long strike for a fourth-minute lead at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
But Ronaldo leveled from the penalty spot in the 35th to end Barcelona’s record of eight clean sheets to start the season.
Pepe punished Barcelona’s shaky set-piece defense by adding a header to take the lead in the 50th, and Karim Benzema left the visitors deflated by sealing the win in the 61st after having hit the woodwork twice in the first half.
“Obviously, after such a long time not playing you are relieved to be back,” Suarez said. “But I take away a bittersweet feeling because of the result.”
Madrid moved into second place one point behind Barcelona with a ninth straight win in all competitions. Carlo Ancelotti’s team has outscored its rivals 38-6 in that stretch.
“The team was incredible in every aspect,” Madrid defender Sergio Ramos said. “Even though we fell behind early we always kept clear that we wanted to dominate the match and not relinquish possession to them.”
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi entered the game one goal shy of equaling Telmo Zarra’s Spanish league scoring record of 251 goals. His best chance to equal the mark came early after another great pass by Suarez, but Iker Casillas did well to save his close-range effort. Other than that, it was an uncharacteristically quiet night for the four-time Ballon d’ Or winner.
Ronaldo won the duel of the star players, extending his scoring run to 11 straight games and increasing his league-leading tally to 16 goals through nine rounds. It was also his 21st goal for Madrid in all competitions this season.
Besides seeing its league lead reduced by its fierce rival, Barcelona also lost Andres Iniesta to a right-leg injury in the second half.
Suarez made Barcelona’s starting lineup hours after completing his four-month ban for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in June at the World Cup. Surprisingly, he was the visitors’ most incisive player in his 69 minutes despite only having played one of four friendlies with his new teammates since then.
Billed as one of the most highly anticipated “clasicos” in recent years, the first half did not disappoint.
Suarez showed no signs of being unaccustomed to playing with Barcelona when he took the ball from Xavi Hernandez and spotted Neymar on the left side of the attack.
Neymar controlled Suarez’s well-weighted cross, cut back across the top of the box to round Dani Carvajal and Pepe and open an angle before he drilled a right-footed strike past Casillas and into the lower corner of the net.
“We didn’t lose our heads after conceding,” Ancelotti said. “We stuck to our plan and I like what I saw because we maintained a high rhythm of play after (Wednesday’s win at) Liverpool.”
Benzema had three quick chances to level for the hosts with a toed shot that trickled by the post in the sixth before the striker hit the goalframe twice with a header and attempt to blast in his rebound in the 11th.
Suarez then almost set up Messi for a second goal with a pinpoint cross to meet the Argentine’s run behind the defense, only for Casillas to make an excellent save with his leg to push the ball wide in the 21st.
But just when Barcelona was playing its best, Marcelo made an incursion down the left side and sent in a low cross that Gerard Pique stopped with his arm as he fell.
Ronaldo stepped up to take the resulting penalty and fired it into the corner to leave goalkeeper Claudio Bravo’s league record of not conceding a goal at eight games and 35 minutes.
Barcelona’s defensive mistakes mounted in the second half as Madrid took full control.
Madrid went in front when Barcelona conceded a corner following Javier Mascherano’s poor pass, giving Pepe a chance to thump in Toni Kroos’ corner after he shed his marker.
A madcap series of errors by Barcelona let Madrid put the result beyond doubt.
Ivan Rakitic, in his first action since replacing Xavi, flubbed his corner kick and Iniesta and Mascherano stared at one another while Francisco “Isco” Alarcon won the clearance near midfield. Benzema ended up with the ball to finally slot it home, with the ball hitting the post but going in this time.
“Madrid deserved to win,” said Barcelona manager Luis Enrique. “This is a loss that clearly leaves Madrid as good or better than we are and we have to correct the mistakes we made today.”
Valencia moved into third, two points behind Barcelona, with a 3-1 win over Elche.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao won 1-0 at Almeria, Eibar drew 1-1 at home with Granada, and Real Sociedad drew 1-1 at Cordoba.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson contributed to this report.