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La Liga: Real Madrid beat Barcelona to retake top spot

Madrid, March 2 (IANS) Real Madrid recovered the No. 1 spot in the La Liga Santander table on goals by Vincius and Mariano, downing Barcelona in the 26th week of Spanish soccer action at Santiago Bernabeu stadium before 78,357 fans.

The soccer classic has become a contrast in styles marked by a psychological factor as Real Madrid — fresh off discombobulating losses to Levante and Manchester City in Champions League play in the middle of last week – on Sunday evening went up against their eternal rivals with Barcelona seemingly favoured thanks to its recent triumphs under the leadership of Leo Messi, reports Efe news.

Barcelona had been unbeaten in its last seven outings against Zinedine Zidane’s boys in all competitions and had not lost to Real Madrid in La Liga play since 2016, but the capital team really dug deep and, in the end, managed to put together the combination that overcame their recent poor showings.

A good portion of play before the break revolved around long possessions by the Catalonian squad, but there seemed to be no real oomph to their efforts and thus they didn’t really threaten Real Madrid’s goal to any significant degree.

Madrid, on the other hand, seemed more on the ball, with quicker execution and better organization.

Thibaut Courtois did a great job in his net-minding role, providing several noteworthy saves for Real Madrid and Barcelona’s goaltender, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, stopped one by Isco that could have gotten the hosts on the board.

Messi floated on the margins of play for the first 30 minutes but then all of a sudden was in the middle of things, going up against Courtois but having his face-to-face shot on goal blocked.

Courtois also saved a dangerous shot by Arthur, who had gotten through to the area without interruption.

Both coaches had made a couple of changes in their lineups for the classic matchup. Zidane revamped his strategy after the loss to Manchester City taking out Luka Modric and replacing him with Toni Kroos in the midfield and inserting Marcelo for Ferland Mendy in the left back position.

And Quique Setien made a pair changes for the Catalonian squad, sending Jordi Alba back onto the pitch after his recovery from injury and benching Junior Firpo, along with replacing Ivan Rakitic with Arthur.

Play moved back and forth but things remained scoreless until the 71st minute, when Vinicius finally got the hosts on the board with the decisive tally of the match.

It was Mariano, who had come in for Benzema in the 90th minute, who scored again for Real Madrid two minutes later for the final result.

–IANS

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