MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid won the first “clásico” of the season to take the lead of the Spanish league and hand Barcelona another painful blow three days after the Catalan club’s hopes of advancing in the Champions League all but ended.
Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde scored first-half goals, and Rodrygo added another in second-half stoppage time, as the defending champions won 3-1 on Sunday to move three points ahead of Barcelona. The rivals had entered the match tied on points, with Barcelona ahead on goal difference.
It was Madrid’s sixth win in the last seven “clásicos,” though it had been embarrassed 4-0 the last time the teams met at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium last season.
Sunday’s defeat was another frustrating setback for Barcelona after it was held 3-3 by Inter Milan at home on Wednesday to be virtually eliminated from the Champions League with two rounds left in its group stage.
Barcelona didn’t advance to the knockout stage last season, its first without Lionel Messi, but elimination this time would be extra disappointing considering the club went on a spending spree to boost its squad with players such as Roberto Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Lewandowski, the league’s leading scorer, wasted his greatest chance in the first half, missing high from near the goal line.
Madrid took advantage of Barcelona’s defensive struggles and Benzema opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a shot from inside the area, off the rebound from a save by goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen in a one-on-one situation with Vinícius Júnior. It was Benzema’s first goal in six matches. He also had a goal disallowed for offside in the second half.
Valverde added to the lead with a low shot from just outside the area in the 35th, with Ferran Torres getting a goal back for the visitors in the 83rd.
Substitute Rodrygo sealed the victory for Madrid by converting a penalty kick in stoppage time.
Madrid was still without injured goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, while Barcelona was missing a few players because of injuries, and coach Xavi Hernández had to improvise Jules Koundé as a center back.
Real Sociedad won 2-1 at Celta Vigo for its seventh win in a row in all competitions.
Asier Illarramendi and Igor Zubeldia scored a goal in each half for Sociedad, which moved to fourth place.
Midtable Celta, which scored with veteran striker Iago Aspas in the first half, has lost four of its last five games.
Later Sunday, Espanyol hosts Valladolid and Almería visits Real Betis.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
JOIN THE CONVERSATION