Evening. Won't somebody please think of the defenders? Barcelona are apparently on a quest to eradicate the world of defenders and strikers, creating a sport played exclusively by midfielders. Not a midfielder? Nah, not interested! It's a strategy that requires an extraordinary amount of faith in your own ability to keep the ball and minimise the opportunities the opposition will have to attack your defence. Given that this is Barcelona we're talking about, that's to be expected. Yet even the best can be beaten. Even the best have a weak spot and it is not hard to spot where Barcelona's lies: in the centre of defence. Tonight, against Real Madrid, Barcelona are likely to trust Alex Song and Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence. There are, of course, mitigating circumstances, injuries robbing them of both Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. But where is the back-up? After all, Real have Pepe, Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol and Sergio Ramos to play centre-back.
It's hardly a problem that has crept up on them (here's a piece on the topic written last year). Although Puyol's latest injury was unfortunate, he has struggled for fitness for some time and missed Euro 2012, while Pique has also had problems. More often than not, Barcelona have the attacking talent to overcome this dilemma, but they are vulnerable against the better sides, as they were against Chelsea in the Champions League last season. Sometimes Lionel Messi will miss a penalty. Last week Sevilla exploited Song's frailties and it required two late goals for Barcelona to maintain their perfect start. But it's only been perfect statistically. On paper. On the pitch, they are open. They can be attacked. They won't always have the ball. Real have Cristiano Ronaldo.
After a slow start to the season, Ronaldo and Real are starting to hit top form, perhaps sparked by the late victory over Manchester City. Ronaldo has two hat-tricks in his last two games and he doesn't seem so sad any more. He has scored in five of the last six matches against Barcelona. Tonight he doesn't have to run at Pique and Puyol, he gets to run at Song and Mascherano. Even so, the pressure is still on Real this evening because unlike last year, they are the ones chasing. If they lose, Jose Mourinho's side will be a whopping 11 points behind Barcelona, which would surely be a decisive lead, even at this stage of the season. Even with this defence, Barcelona remain about as close to perfection as it's possible to be.
Kicking off: 6.51pm.
Team news: Scrap the preamble. Ronaldo doesn't get to run at Song and Mascherano. He gets to run at Adriano and Mascherano. Barcelona are basically asking for it. Real's attack could have a field day against this lot. The midfield isn't bad, mind you. For Real, Sergio Ramos has made up with Jose Mourinho - for now - and returns to the centre of defence. That's right, Real have outrageously picked some defenders in their defence. In attack, Karim Benzema gets the nod ahead of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil plays instead of Luka Modric and Kaka.
Barcelona (0-10-0): Valdes; Dani Alves, Adriano, Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Fabregas. Subs: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Song, Sergi Roberto, Sanchez, Villa.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema. Subs: Adán, Coentrão, Kaká, Essien, Albiol, Modric, Higuaín.
Referee: Some poor sap.
"I'm glad to see that in recent weeks Vilanova has let Cesc play in what is, after eight years in England, his natural role: a goal-scoring threat making direct vertical runs into the box," says SB Tang. "That's also the role he generally fulfils with distinction for the Spanish national team, albeit typically off the bench. Cesc only looks like "Emile Ceskey" (a fair and Dr Hibbert chuckle-worthy call by you at the time) when he's asked to play the Xavi role managing the tempo of the game and circulating the ball from the middle of the park. I don't see much point in making him perform that function — in order to do so he'd have to, much like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, "unlearn" all that he learned in eight years in England — when the role he now plays so naturally after his time in England — the direct goal-scorer making vertical runs from midfield — is precisely what Barca have lacked."
"This must be a bit of a comedown after watching Stoke earlier," says Niall Mullen.
"Alexandre Song to Barcelona," says Stephen Bush. "Has there been a single Arsenal to Barcelona transfer that has really made sense? Cesc doesn't fit, Henry was a squad player, Overmars and Petit a bit past it, Hleb a bit rubbish..."
"It's about time Barcelona got punished for their sheer arrogance in team selection," says Shooby Taylor. "They are an indisputably great team, but their attitude will be their downfall. There seems to be an attitude of "pick 10 midfielders and we'll win" no matter who they play against. I predict 3-0 to Madrid and an outrageous celebration dance by Mourinho at full time."
I think Real are going to win this. I don't see how Barcelona can stop them going forward.
The players are in the tunnel. A few hugs between them. Don't expect any on the pitch. To the Barcelona anthem, they stroll out on to the pitch and are greeted by a massive Catalan flag spread around the stadium. Political.
We're off. Real Madrid get us going, kicking from right to left. Ear-piercing whistles greet their every touch. Barcelona manage to go the first 21 seconds without conceding. Hurrah! "What will happen first?" says John. "A Pepe yellow card or Busquets falling over?"
2 min: The first foul of the evening comes after 1min 16sec, Ramos bumping into Busquets. So there's John's question answered.
3 min: Barcelona are on the attack. Which is probably for the best. A loose ball breaks to Messi on the left. He feeds a pass into Fabregas's feet on the edge of the area. He twists and turns, but can't find a way through. Nor can Messi. He stamps his feet in frustration. This has been a very open start.
4 min: Ronaldo goes on the first run of many up the left flank but he's halted by a superb challenge from Busquets. He might have to do that a lot tonight. Once he's gone, there's no catching him. "Star Wars references on the MBM!" says Ryan Dunne. "You certainly know what the stereotypical MBMer audience wants, Jacob. Any chance we could also get some Seinfeld, cynicism and tales of romantic desperation? I myself am hoping that tonight's game will be more entertaining than Taken 2, which I saw earlier (alone, needless to say). Frankly Liam Neeson was insufficiently badass for a man, let us remember, who trained both Obi-Wan Kenobi *and* Batman." I went to a party last night. Yeah. Check me out. I'm probably too drunk too be at the helm here.
6 min: There's a real anxiety in the crowd when Real go forward. Benzema finds space 30 yards from goal, but fails to spot Marcelo in acres of space on the left. One pass and he was through. Benzema goes right though and eventually Ozil hammers a shot miles over the bar.
7 min: Marcelo dinks a fine pass over the top. Ozil is onside but the ball skips off the surface and through to Valdes. Barcelona's defence is so easily breached. Real are the better side.
8 min: A crucial intervention from Adriano stops Khedira from getting through the middle after a fabulous reverse-pass from Ozil. He just about got to that and even then he nearly cocked it up, eventually forced into hacking out for a throw-in in a blind panic.
9 min: It's not total dominance from Real but they are causing a lot of problems for Barcelona. Ozil glides through the middle with no one about to challenge him. He slides a pass through to Ronaldo but Mascherano expertly reads the situation and chases back to calm the danger.
11 min: Now Barcelona pour forward. Messi pushes a glorious pass through to Fabregas on the left side of the area. He's too wide to shoot though and tries to find Messi in the middle. Nothing doing. There are too many Real defenders back. "While i'm never one to agree with Shooby Taylor, either on here or when we shared a house, he does have a point about Barcalona, (though its an axe he has been grinding for a good three years now without being proved right) someday they will be found out and once one person works it out, everyone will follow," says David Flynn.
13 min: Ronaldo, under no pressure on the right, sends a cross to the far post. It comes to Benzema, totally unmarked. Which is what happens when you play no defenders. The Frenchman, who scored a ridiculous overhead kick against Ajax on Wednesday, lines up another volley but from 10 yards out he makes a complete mess of it, comically miscuing it embarrassingly wide. Dear me, that was awful. But then, so was the defending. You wouldn't expect him to let Barcelona off the hook again though.
15 min: Pepe nearly lets Barcelona in with a poor touch in defence, tempting a tackle from Fabregas. Fortunately for the Real defender, Fabregas fouls him. Naturally he decides to stay down for a few seconds, milking the contact. He was so lucky there: Barcelona would have had a two-on-one situation if the tackle had been fair.
16 min: "A lot has been made of the Barcelona defence but it is a crime of epic proportions that Iniesta is being wasted in the front three," says Liam Moseley. "Every time it happens a part of me dies." It's because Cesc Fabregas is Barcelona's Juan Sebastian Veron.
18 min: After 17 minutes and 14 seconds, a chant about Catalan independence goes up around the stadium. They want it back basically. But why that time, you ask? They lost it in 1714, says Professor Steinberg, shamelessly cribbing off someone else's notes. There endeth tonight's history lesson.
19 min: Sergio Ramos has his head in his hands. He can't believe he's missed. And rightly so. This looked a certain goal. Khedira won a corner over on the right after a strong run. It was curled into the middle by Di Maria and Ramos charged through the bodies like Jonah Lomu to nut a downward header past the right post. Valdes wouldn't have had a prayer. Real have taken the lead from a corner in their last two appearances at the Camp Nou. That should have been the hat-trick.
20 min: Iniesta wriggles away from a challenge and rams one over from 25 yards out. I make that Barcelona's first shot. "My enjoyment of this game is been somewhat enchanced by the fact my internet stream is being commentated on by what seems to be the late Sid Waddell and Boris Becker," says David Flynn. "If its not them then i have no idea who i'm listening to."
GOAL! Barcelona 0-1 Real Madrid (Ronaldo, 23 min): Cristiano Ronaldo becomes the first player to score in sixth consecutive Clasicos. Try to contain your shock. This is was so predictable and a lovely goal to boot. Khedira fed a cute little pass into Benzema's feet on the edge of the area. He turned and then flicked a brilliant pass to his left to Ronaldo, who had managed to stay onside. He took a touch and then smashed a low shot inside Valdes's near post with Dani Alves nowhere to be seen.
25 min: Barcelona could be embarrassed here. They are a rabble. The lack of a defence is, well, indefensible. Real slice through them at will on the right. Di Maria breaks into the area and shuffles a ball across to Benzema, all alone in the middle of the box. Falling over, his scooped shot clatters back of the right post and Khedira pokes the rebound wide. Barcelona are all over the place. Real look like scoring every time they go forward. Barcelona do not.
27 min: It gets worse for Barcelona. Dani Alves has gone off injured and is replaced by Montoya. The youngster has to try to handle Ronaldo. Good luck with that. "Mr. Flynn, you don't mean to suggest that I have an irrational bias against Barcelona, do you?" says Shooby Taylor. "I hope not. Axe to grind or not, The Emperor has no clothes and people are starting to notice. If Kramer was here, he might say "How could you be so stupid?!" in relation to Barca's team selection today." Leave it lads, it ain't werf it.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid (Messi, 31 min): Barcelona might not have a defence, but they do have Lionel Messi. Real are furious about this, claiming there was a foul on Pepe in the buildup, but it was just terrible defending from the Portuguese. It all started, as it so often does, with a dart from Iniesta. He found Pedro on the right but his low cross was poor, directed straight at Ramos. But his clearance struck Khedira and looped up into the air and as Pepe tried to head it away, he made a fool of himself, misjudging the flight and ending up in a hapless heap on the floor. There wasn't a push. With the ball bobbling about the six-yard box, Messi reacted quicker than anyone else and smashed it past Casillas with his left foot. Real should be out of sight. They're not.
33 min: Guillem Balague is reporting that Dani Alves wasn't injured but that his substitution was a tactical change. Tito's trying to out-Jose Jose. "The guy who sounds like Sid Waddell is a guy called Ray Hudson who commentates on some American channel," says Mark Welsh. "I'm glad someone else thinks he sounds like the late, great Waddell. It's in his words 'uncanny' ."
35 min: Barcelona have been visibly lifted by the goal. Which is just as well, because they were an abject disgrace before it.
37 min: "Looks like Real could do with some central defenders as well," says Simon Townend. "Can we send out JT and Rio to help both clubs out? These Clasicos are getting a bit too friendly after all, what with hugging in the tunnel and so on, they need something to spice up the action a bit."
39 min: Pedro is booked for catching Ramos with a high foot as they went in for a 50-50. What follows is some posturing from both sides. Xabi Alonso calms it all down. "This could be The Knowledge material but I will ask it here anyway: in 2004-05, Mourinho's Chelsea had 1-0 lead at Nou Camp and lost 2-1," says Admir Pajiae. "In 2005-06 Chelsea had 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge only to lose 1-2. He lost match in Supercup this season despite being 1-0 ahead. Is Barcelona team with the biggest number of come-backs against Mourinho?" I don't know the answer off the top of my head but probably. Generally you don't beat a Mourinho side once they score first.
43 min: Xavi dupes Alonso with a beautiful turn and gets a tap on the ankle because of it. Alonso is booked. They're supposed to be mates.
44 min: Jordi Alba gets clear behind Arbeloa on the left and skips into the Real area. He waits for support and then pushes a pass to the onrushing Iniesta, who gets the ball stuck under his feet. Overrated.
Half time: Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid. It's not been a classic. Barcelona are very lucky to be level because Real could very easily be two or three up. Instead they've wasted a host of chances and Messi has taken the one Barcelona have made.
"Catalonia lost their independence in 1714? Are you mad?" says William Kemble-Diaz. YEAH I'M BONKERS MATE. "What nonsense. Seriously, it would have been best if you'd said nothing rather than sully the reputation of the Guardian by peddling stuff you have clearly not bothered to check." Don't shoot the messenger, I'm just repeating what I heard on the commentary. Or maybe I misheard. Anyway, calm down, you'll do yourself a mischief.
Hang on. Hang on a minute.
"Barcelona an abject disgrace?" says Claudia J Diaz Garcia. "What the BAD LANGUAGE ALERT are you talking about?" Marry me.
"If Barca are so bad why is it 1-1?" asks Henry Carter. "All Madrid do is counter, they cant put more than two short passes together. Ramos to Barca next window?" Because Madrid missed three clear chances before the Barcelona goal.
"Obviously you should never type anything you haven't previously verified yourself," says Laurie Hu. "Therefore I will expect commentary in the second half to presume that everything you here is a lie. 'A man who Sky claim is Lionel Messi appears to pass to a man who Sky claim is Andres Iniesta. All of this could be false, as I cannot confirm the pictures I am seeing are actually real'."
"Not the the first time Valdes has failed to cover near post. He seems to have some problems with it," says Yogesh Dashrath. "I remember Van Persie scoring for Arsenal at near post among other examples. He seems to somehow have no idea where his near post is. As for the game, Madrid should win it. Barca are so afraid because of their lack of defense. If Madrid go for it, this match is theirs for the taking. Though last 15 minutes, Barca were finally playing mind."
46 min: Here we go again. And what a start to the second half! Barcelona lose the ball immediately from the kick off and Ronaldo is set clear down the left. His cross towards Benzema in the middle is cut out, but Ozil picks uyp the loose ball on the edge of the area. He turns past Busquets, who hangs out a leg dangerously. Ozil goes down. No penalty. It could have been. Barcelona attack and Messi goes on a brilliant run down the right flank. He beats Marcelo and Pepe but his cross is cut out. It had to be.
48 min: Real have come out strongly at the start of the second half. They know Barcelona are there for the taking and they're asserting themselves.
49 min: Check this out," says Shreshth Singhal.
"Specifically, pay attention to: "Barcelona, which had supported the Archduke's claim to the throne of Spain and the allies in 1705, finally surrendered to the Bourbon army on 11 September 1714 following a long siege, ending the presence of the allies in Spain. This is remembered in that region as the National Day of Catalonia.'"
51 min: A lull. A lot of faffing about in the middle of the park. "I'm no expert on Spanish history, but as far as I understand it, Catalonia as it is now constituted stopped being a completely independent entity in 1137 when the Count of Barcelona married the Queen of Aragon," says Kari Tulinius. "The ensuing kingdom of Aragon merged with the kingdom of Castile in 1410 when the king of Aragon died without heirs and the Pope gave the crown to the king of Castile. Aragon remained a separate kingdom by law and custom until about 1714, when it was abolished and Castile and Aragon became the kingdom of Spain. Where to draw the line is problematic, and 1714 makes as much sense as anything else."
52 min: Iniesta is brought down by Pepe on the edge of the area - or was it inside? It could have been. It doesn't matter though. The referee gives a corner, thus saving himself a very big headache. Probably wise. "A vague recollection of European history and quick squiz at the encyclopaedia suggests that 1714 as the end of the War of the Spanish succession," says Chris Ross. "Charles II of Spain died young, in no small part due to inbreeding. Catalunya backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne.
Castillia backed the Bourbon claim. The Habsburgs lost, so Catalunya lost.
Had the Habsburgs won, Catalunya would surely have remained part of Spain, with certain autonomy, but not independent of it. I'm no enemy of the right of self-determination, but this 1714 just seems like a nice advertising ploy."
54 min: Busquets is booked for bringing down Ronaldo in full flight. He was running at the Barcelona "defence" 30 yards from goal. It had to be done. But Ronaldo might shoot, so the threat's not gone yet.
55 min: After a long wait, the referee making sure the wall is 10 yards away, Ronaldo slams the free-kick straight into it.
57 min: Is there any point crossing when there's no one in the middle? No, is the answer, Pedro.
58 min: Sami Khedira has been booked. I'm guessing it was for dissent. "Man, with all those references to famous battles in bygone days of yore, this is almost starting to feel like an Old Firm game from the bad old days!" says Ryan Dunne.
59 min: Xabi Alonso is lucky not to be sent off. Already on a booking, he takes out Messi on the edge of the area with a cynical chop. He escapes a second yellow card. The referee fancies a quiet week.
WHAT A GOAL!!! Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid (Messi, 61 min): It takes something special to beat Iker Casillas from this range, but then Lionel Messi is something special. The free-kick was in a central position, around 25 yards from goal. Only one man was going to take it. With his left foot, Messi got the ball up and over the wall and it was hit with such wonderful curl that Casillas had no chance at all, the ball almost taunting him as it bent into the right corner. That is simply stunning. But then Messi is simply stunning. He's beating Real Madrid on his own.
62 min: Jose Mourinho's response is to bring off the wasteful Karim Benzema and introduce Gonzalo Higuain.
63 min: Barcelona make their second change, Cesc Fabregas replaced by Alexis Sanchez.
64 min: I wish I was Lionel Messi.
65 min: A corner to Real on the left. The stadium goes quiet. And then collapses in a fit of giggles as Ronaldo goes for the bicycle kick and makes no contact at all with the ball.
GOAL! Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid (Ronaldo, 66 min): He didn't wait long to get his revenge and it's Lionel Messi 2-2 Cristiano Ronaldo. This is another fine goal from Real, although Barcelona are cut open so easily. Ozil slipped a pass through and Ronaldo, darting in from left to right like Freddie Ljungberg in his pomp, rams it clinically past Valdes. That's a quite brilliant finish. But Barcelona can't defend.
69 min: A problem for Real Madrid: Ronaldo is playing through the pain barrier, because he hurt his shoulder trying that overhead kick just before the goal. He's going to continue though.
70 min: Messi wants his hat-trick. He goes on another superlative run, and plays a one-two with Alba on the left. But then he comes up with neither a cross nor a shot, a chip to the far post that goes harmlessly wide. "I love Ray Hudson," says Graham Dow. "He described Messi after the goal "as constant as the north star and twice as radioactive" and described Ronaldo as the "iceman" as he scored. Shakespearean."
74 min: Messi glides through the challenges again and feeds Iniesta, whose ball across the face of goal is put behind by the sliding Marcelo.
75 min: Messi is hassled and harried by Alonso, who is eventually penalised. What happened the last time Messi stood over a free-kick from this distance?
76 min: This time, Messi's free-kick flies over the bar.
77 min: Up the other end, Valdes is forced into a fine save with his feet at the near post by Higuain from a tight angle. There's no repeat of the first Ronaldo goal.
78 min: We attack, you attack. This game is end-to-end that even the referee is struggling to keep up. Can you blame him? As Barcelona break, he falls over but is up to spot Pepe clattering into Sanchez. He's booked.
79 min: "I've always wanted to be Xabi Alonso. I think it's incredible that not one, not two, but THREE players in this match have played for Liverpool," says Matt Dony. "Next season, will we see Henderson lining up for Barca, facing off against Madrid's Carroll? They'd fit right in." What I'd give to see Ronaldo introduced to Carroll.
80 min: Mesut Ozil is replaced by Kaka. He's quite good.
82 min: "Madrid will be kicking themselves (and probably missing) over their first half profligacy," says Shooby Taylor. "Still, after my allegedly pompous pre match prediction I ended up putting a bet on 2-2, so I'll take this." Is Shooby Taylor a pseudonym for Sean Ingle?
83 min: Alexis Sanchez has been caught offside three times since coming on. I'm not sure about him.
84 min: Despite the attentions of two Barcelona defenders on the left, Ronaldo wins a free-kick for Real on the left. He's holding his shoulder again.
86 min: Messi misses a great chance to set up Pedro for the winner, playing a through-ball just too far ahead of him, forcing him wide. With little support, he's stopped by Kaka of all people. Messi really should have got that pass right. "The 3rd best player in the world (ahem) is also playing tonight," says Peter Corway. "He's scored 2 goals in his match too. A nonchalant backheeled volley from a corner (not the first time he has scored one of those). And a freekick from 25 yards out. It's Marseille 1 – 2 Zlatan."
88 min: Barcelona almost win the match thanks to the unlikeliest of sources. After a spell of pinball on the edge of the box, the young right-back decides to take matters into his own hands and curls a ridiculously good effort on to the face of the bar. He's the right-back.
90 min+1: Barcelona have another free-kick 25 yards from goal, Messi taken out by Arbeloa. Xavi takes it; it's deflected wide. Barcelona want the win, when you'd expect it to be the other way round.
90 min+3: Iniesta is some player. He sprays a beautiful pass down the inside-right channel for Pedro to chase. He gets there, cuts inside and then fizzes a low drive just wide. Real are hanging on now.
Full time: Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid. It finishes Messi 2-2 Ronaldo. The spoils are shared after a marvellously entertaining - albeit tactically anarchic - match. Barcelona lose their 100% record but perhaps more importantly they keep the eight-point gap over Real, who will surely be frustrated not to have won. In the first 30 minutes, it looked like they were going to humiliate Barcelona, whose defending was risible. But there's no accounting for Lionel Messi. In the end, Real needed Ronaldo to rescue them and stop Barcelona from going 11 points clear. Thanks for reading. Bye.