Today, hosts Real Madrid lost Spanish Football's El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu, 3-4, at the hands of arch-rivals Barcelona FC. The win closes the gap between the teams on the La Liga table and leaves Atletico on top by head-to-head goal differential (3-2 to Atletico) over Real Madrid while Barcelona is now one point off the pace in third place and with a chance to compete for the domestic championship.
Fielding the better rosters at their disposal Real coach, Carlo Ancelotti, and Barca coach, Tata Martino, brought all of their big guns and each had an impact on the game.
Cramming a couple of games worth of magical and tough competitive football into a 45-minute span the two Spanish Giants played at the top of their ample skills and with the exception of a couple of poor officiating calls the first half was scintillating.
At the sixth minute Dani Alves knocked Cristiano Ronaldo down, with a push from behind, in the Barca box, and was not called for the foul. A minute later, the ensuing counterattack saw Lionel Messi catch Daniel Carbajal woefully out of position as Andres Iniesta broke into the box on the left. The perfectly weighted pass was met by the Barca midfielder with a thundering left-footed blast that roofed the ball off the crossbar and into the goal for the opening score.
At the 12:25 minute Karim Benzema was the recipient of a great Angel di Maria cross and the Frenchman put the fear of games past in the minds of all Merengue fans by missing a gimme goal from closer in than the penalty spot.
At the 14th minute mark Messi broke down the middle with a clear chance on goal and shot wide right when Diego Lopez was clearly beaten.
At the 20th minute another brilliant di Maria cross was caught at its peak by a levitating Benzema who placed a strong header well to the left of Victor Valdez who managed to get a hand on the ball but only to redirect it in off the post. Game tied.
At the 24th minute another perfect di Maria cross found a perfectly placed Benzema who trapped the ball with his thigh and volleyed in for the go ahead goal.
At the 26th minute Benzema was the recipient of ball that he carefully placed with a curled left kick beyond the diving hand of Valdez only to watch Pique clear from behind his keeper for the save.
At the 42nd a typical Messi run was stopped by Real's defense only to squeeze out to Neymar who managed to touch it back into Messi's path. The diminutive Argentine's reaction time was faster than any of the sliding Real defenders' tackles and he blasted the ball into the net for the score. Game tied.
At the 45th minute Benzema missed an open header hitting it wide left of goal when a planted Valdez had been unable to react to it.
The ref blew the whistle at the 45th and a few seconds.
The second half was, impossibly, every bit as exciting as the first with another three goals scored.
At the 52nd minute Benzema missed another gimme one-on-one goal, his third of the match and counting. The miss erased what had been a brilliant run by Gareth Bale who dribbled and ran past half the Barca defense and then served up the opportunity for his teammate.
At the 53rd minute Alves tripped a runaway Ronaldo just outside the box and the ref saw it inside. Penalty! Ronaldo coolly placed the ball to Valdez's right lower corner for Real's second go ahead goal.
At the 63rd minute Ramos, the last defender on another incredibly accurate pass from Messi to Neymar that left the Brazilian alone in the box with Lopez, grabbed and twirled the striker to the ground. Penalty and red card for Ramos!
Replays would show Neymar was off sides when the pass left Messi's boot. But Messi calmly boomed the ball low and to his right and just out of reach for Lopez. Game tied again. Now Barca had the man advantage in what had been an even match that yet tilted Madrid's way.
At the 73rd minute Alves took a long range shot that beat Lopez but hit the left post where it met the ground and ricocheted away.
At the 83rd minute Xabi Alonso tripped Iniesta in the box--penalty! Messi calmly boomed the ball high, right, and away from Lopez for what would turn out to be his hat trick and the winning goal of what has to be the most exciting clasicos in years.