Lionel Messi and Cristiano RonaldoFinal, 4-3 Barcelona: It’s all over. Barcelona wins a truly classic version of “El Clasico.”

Messi’s hat trick was decisive, but it turned out to be a mere subplot in this thriller.

It was a game of two halves, as the first period featured both teams’ expected attacking quality and produced four goals from open play.

But the contest turned physical and controversial in the second half, as the referee awarded three disputed penalty kicks, sent Ramos off and cautioned a host of other players.

The victory propels Barcelona back into the heated race for the La Liga tittle, as it trails leaders Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid by just one point. The win also will silence talk about a crisis at Barcelona and give head coach Martino more capital in both the dressing room and the boardroom.

Check out some stats below.

That’s all for now and thanks for joining us. Let’s discuss this one on Twitter @NESNsoccer and Facebook. Be sure to keep an eye out for some news, fan reactions, analysis and opinion that is on the way on

90th minute, 4-3 Barcelona: Morata comes on for Modric, as Real Madrid makes its third and final substitution.

86th minute, 4-3 Barcelona: The referee cautions Ronaldo for fouling Mascherano.

Modric joins Ronaldo in the referees’ book one minute later.

85th minute 4-3 Barcelona: The referee cautions Alonso.

Meanwhile, Isco replaces di Maria.

84th minute 4-3 Barcelona: Messi buries the penalty kick and gives Barcelona a late lead over 10-man Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi,

Messi hit his penalty hard and placed it perfectly into the side netting, giving Lopez no chance to stop it.

83rd minute 3-3: Iniesta wins another penalty for Barcelona.

Iniesta beat Carvajal with a dribble at the edge of the penalty area, and Alonso came over to help his teammate but brought Iniesta down. Alonso’s challenge was clumsy, and the referee punished him for it.

78th minute, 3-3: Sanchez replaces Fabregas, as Martino makes another attack-minded substitution.

In his pregame press conference, Martino said a draw wouldn’t be a good enough result for his team. Apparently, he meant it.

73rd minute, 3-3: Barcelona has been on the ascendancy since Messi tied the game, and Alves nearly puts the visitors ahead with a hard shot from just outside the area, which beat Lopez but hit the post.

68th minute, 3-3: Martino replaces Neymar with Pedro.

66th minute, 3-3: Benzema’s day is done, as Ancelotti replaces him with Varane.

Ancelotti made a tactical change after Ramos’ dismissal, bringing on Varane to play in the central defense next to Pepe.

65th minute, 3-3: Busquets is cautioned for a foul in the midfield.

65th minute, 3-3: Messi scores the game-tying goal from the penalty spot.

Lionel Messi

Messi played Neymar into the box with a well-placed through-ball. Neymar took a touch and Ramos appeared to trip him in the area.

Neymar, Sergio Ramos

The referee sent Ramos off for the foul, as he was the last defender and prevented a goal-scoring opportunity.

61st minute, 3-2 Real Madrid: Iniesta and Neymar both test Lopez.

Inesta fired a left-footed shot from distance that went just high.

Seconds later, Neymar shot straight at Lopez.

55th minute, 3-2 Real Madrid: Ronaldo’s penalty will be controversial, as Alves made contact with him outside of the penalty area but he fell into it.

55th minute, 3-2 Real Madrid: Ronaldo beats Valdes with a powerful and accurate shot from the penalty spot.

54th minute, 2-2: The referee awards Real Madrid a penalty kick.

Alves made contact with Ronaldo at the top of the area, and the Portuguese superstar’s momentum carried him into the box where he went down.

53rd minute minute, 2-2: Bale’s speedy dribble down the right side nearly leads to Real Madrid’s third goal.

The Welshman ran at Alba and Pique before laying it off to Benzema, who hit a powerful shot on goal. Valdes was equal to it and made the save.

46th minute, 2-2: The second half is under way.

If it matches what we saw in the first half, history will remember this as one of the all-time great “Clasicos.”

Halftime, 2-2: Wow. A pulsating 45 minutes have produced a soccer spectacle worthy of its hype.

We’ve seen four goals, plenty of fireworks and end-to-end action throughout. The names of Benzema, Messi and Iniesta appear on the scoresheet, but both teams are performing at a high level.

Real Madrid has been dangerous throughout. The powerful running of Bale and Ronaldo have unbalanced the Barcelona defense, while di Maria’s pinpoint passing set up both of Benzema’s goals.

Barcelona has been shaky defensively, but its highly touted attack has lived up to its reputation. Messi has been a menace in the final third, setting up Iniesta’s goal and scoring one himself. Neymar has found himself in good scoring positions but hasn’t converted when called upon.

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42nd minute, 2-2: Messi finishes off a sweeping Barcelona move with aplomb, and the score is tied.

Messi and Neymar exchanged passes in a tight space inside the area. Messi took a touch and shot past two defenders and the goalkeeper.

Lionel Messi

It’s his 19th career goal in “El Clasico,” making him the all-time leading goal scorer in this storied rivalry.

There was a bit of a fracas after the goal. Fabregas was among a group of Barcelona players who tried to take the ball out of goal and carry it back to the center circle. He soon encountered Pepe.

Cesc Fabregas, Pepe

Pepe and Fabregas squared up to one another, there was a bit of shoving and both players went down. When they returned to their feet, the referee booked both players.

34th minute, 2-1 Real Madrid: The referee shows di Maria a yellow card for cynically bringing down Neymar, as the Brazilian attempted to dribble past him.

26th minute, 2-1 Real Madrid: Benzema Nearly makes it a lightning-quick hat trick, but Pique clears his shot off the line.

Real Madrid is overpowering the right side of Barcelona’s defense, as di Maria, Marcelo and Ronaldo are running at Alves every chance they get.

The tactic is doubly effective because it targets a weakness in Alves’ game and prevents him from joining the attack, as he has done for so many years.

23rd minute, 2-1 Real Madrid: Benzema doubles his fun and gives Real Madrid a lead.

Once again, di Maria provided the assist, as ran onto Marcelo’s through-ball and crossed into the area.
Mascherano then tried to intercept it but missed it all together, and Benzema deftly controlled it with his thigh and volleyed it past Valdes from close range.

Karim Benzema

20th minute, 1-1: Benzema ties the score for Real Madrid.

Di Maria got free on the left and delivered a pinpoint cross to Benzema, who put a powerful header on goal.

The diving Valdes got a hand on it, but he palmed it into the side netting.

15th minute, 1-0 Barcelona: Messi joins Benzema in the miss parade.

The Argentine superstar broke into the area but dragged his left-footed shot across the face of the goal. Everyone in the stadium was expecting him to finish that chance, but he shockingly failed to do so.

12th minute, 1-0 Barcelona: Di Maria presents Benzema with a golden opportunity to tie the game, but the French striker shot terribly high.

Real Madrid fans were finally warming up to Benzema after several strong performances in the winter. That miss could thwart his attempts at winning any popularity contests at the Bernabeu.

Sixth minute, 1-0 Barcelona: Iniesta gives visiting Barcelona an early lead.

Andres Iniesta
Having dropped into an attacking midfield position, Messi found Iniesta with a perfect diagonal pass into the area.

Iniesta took a touch and blasted his shot past Lopez to draw first blood for his team.

Fourth minute, 0-0: Barcelona has the first shot on goal.

Messi led the counter-attack and fed a streaking Neymar with a through-ball on the right wing. Neymar carried it into the area and shot from a tight angle, but Lopez had no trouble saving it.

Second minute, 0-0: The game is under way, and Real Madrid is off to a fast start.

Ronaldo dribbled past Alves and fired a cross into the area, but Pique cleared it. Barcelona recovered, but Real Madrid’s pressure has prevented the visitors from pushing the game into their half.

Pregame: Both managers have fielded strong starting lineups, as expected in a game of this magnitude.

Keep an eye on Real Madrid’s di Maria. The Argentine forged his reputation as winger and one of Ronaldo’s chief providers, but his role has diminished since Bale’s return to form and fitness. Di Maria has played centrally in recent weeks and will likely do so again in this game.

Barcelona boss Martino has put Neymar in the starting 11 in his first visit to the Bernabeu. The Brazilian’s form has been mixed recently due to injury, travel and scandal. Barcelona will need him to embrace the pressure and perform effectively in both attack and defense.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid has moved into a first-place tie with Real Madrid after defeating Real Betis on Sunday. If Barcelona wins this game, the La Liga will have a genuine, three-horse race for the title.

We first asked this question about Real Madrid’s attacking triumvirate a few weeks ago. It bears asking again.

3:30 p.m.: Here are the lineups:

Gareth Bale

Real Madrid

Diego Lopez (25), goalkeeper
Marcelo (12), left back
Pepe (3), center back
Sergio Ramos (4), center back
Daniel Carvajal (15), right back
Xabi Alonso (14), midfielder
Luka Modric (19), midfielder
Angel di Maria (22), midfielder
Gareth Bale (11), forward
Cristiano Ronaldo (7), forward
Karim Benzema (9), striker


Iker Casillas (1), goalkeeper
Raphael Varane (2), defender
Fabio Coentrao (5), defender
Nacho Fernandez (18), defender
Isco (23), midfielder
Asier Illarramendi (24), midfielder
Alvaro Morata (21), striker


Victor Valdes (1), goalkeeper
Dani Alves (22), right back
Gerard Pique (3), center back
Javier Mascherano (14), center back
Jordi Alba (18), left back
Sergio Busquets (16), midfielder
Xavi (6), midfielder
Andres Iniesta (8), midfielder
Cesc Fabregas (4), forward
Neymar (11), forward
Lionel Messi (10), forward


Jose Manuel Pinto (13), goalkeeper
Marc Bartra (15), defender
Adriano (21), defender
Sergi Roberto (24), midfielder
Alex Song (17), midfielder
Pedro (7), forward
Alexis Sanchez (9), forward

1 p.m. ET: The soccer world turns its gaze toward Spain on Sunday, as Real Madrid meets Barcelona in the latest edition of “El Clasico.”

The two Spanish giants face off at Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu (Santiago Bernabeu Stadium) with La Liga (Spain’s first division) supremacy on the line. First-place Real Madrid has a four point lead over third-place Barcelona. A victory for the hosts would open up a seven point gap over the visitors with nine games remaining, effectively ending Barcelona’s title defense.

A lot has changed since the last Clasico, which Barcelona won 2-1 on Oct. 26. Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti solved his team’s early season woes and turned the Merengues into arguably Europe’s hottest team. They haven’t lost since that afternoon in October, a stretch spanning 32 games.

Meanwhile, Barcelona head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino still seeks the right mix which would return Barcelona to its best form. Martino’s team has lost three of its last seven league games, and there are growing fears that Barcelona is declining from the peaks it has enjoyed for much of the last six seasons.

And, of course, there is the whole Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo thing to watch. They’re still the two top players in the world.

Sunday’s game kicks off at 4 p.m. ET. Watch this space, as we’ll bring you all the action as it happens.

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