Barcelona’s difficult first season without Lionel Messi continued with another defeat in El Clasico to arch-rivals Real Madrid.
David Alaba’s stunner and Lucas Vazquez’s late tap-in enabled Carlo Ancelotti’s team to beat their hosts 2-1 on Sunday.
The defeat was another blow to Barcelona which has struggled since its financial troubles kept it from re-signing Messi. Ronald Koeman’s team was left in ninth, five points adrift of Real.
This was the first “clasico” without Messi, who scored 26 times in this fixture, and Madrid’s long-time captain Sergio Ramos, former rivals who are now teammates at Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi was inevitably missed. This was illustrated when American Sergino Dest, who had been shunted into the right flank position formerly occupied by the Argentine genius, squandered a golden chance prior to Clasico debutant Alaba arrowing in a brilliant shot.
Vazquez doubled the lead when he was on hand to tap in at the end of a second-half injury-time counter.
That proved crucial, with Sergio Aguero’s maiden Barca goal in the 97th minute not enough to inspire a comeback.
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The defeat was Barca’s fourth consecutive Clasico defeat across all competitions – their longest losing run in the fixture since seven losses in a row between April 1962 and February 1965.
“Of course, it’s an amazing feeling,” Alaba said. “My first El Clasico, my first goal. I’m very glad and grateful. But what’s more important is the victory as a team, we’re very happy to achieve our goal.”
“Shooting well from deep is a talent (Alaba) has,” said Ancelotti. “He found space and executed very well.”
“I think we did enough to get a different result, especially in the first half,” Barca coach Koeman said.
Barca seemed all set to take the lead after breaking clear from a Marc-Andre ter Stegen pass, yet with only Thibaut Courtois to beat, Sergino Dest lashed a close-range effort way over the bar.
Where one defender failed, another one made no such mistake. After getting Madrid on the counter by dispossessing Memphis Depay, Alaba continued his run to latch onto Rodrygo’s pass and thump a wonderful finish into the top-right corner.
“We had a very clear chance for the 1-0, and instead of that they scored the 0-1. From there on it was very difficult, and we know how dangerous they are on the counterattack,” Koeman added. “It was such a clear chance. You have to put it in.”
Alaba made a telling contribution at the other end before half-time, blocking Ansu Fati’s goal-bound attempt after Gerard Pique had headed just wide.
Pique and substitute Aguero both flapped at a cut-back in injury time and Madrid grabbed a second goal from the resulting counter when Vazquez tucked in on the rebound from Marco Asensio’s shot.
Aguero, another Clasico debutant, gave Barca a glimmer of hope with a close-range strike, though the final whistle blew a minute later.
In other matches in La Liga Sevilla beat Levante 5-3, to remain level with Real Madrid, and Real Betis defeated Rayo Vallecano 3-2 to be two points behind.