The former Liverpool striker brought down Dani Alves’ long ball to produce a sweet finish past Iker Casillas on 55 minutes, restoring Barça’s lead after Cristiano Ronaldo had cancelled out Jeremy Mathieu’s opener in the first half.
Madrid now have ten matches to recover their four-point deficit with Luis Enrique’s side at the top, but they have a superior head-to-head record as they beat Barça 3-1 at the Bernabeu earlier in the season.
Real threatened first as a Ronaldo shot off the crossbar in the 12th minute after a nicely played ball in from Benzema. A minute later Isco then had a good look at goal, only to send a shot just wide of the far post.
However the game’s first goal would come from an unlikely source as Mathieu connected on a header to put Barcelona up 1-0 in the 19th minute. Messi curled in a left-footed free kick and the former Valencia man, was poorly marked by Ramos, and he placed his header past Casillas, much to the delight of the packed Camp Nou.
It was a 30-second span in the 31st minute when the match really started to take off, as at one end Neymar missed an absolute sitter after a pass from Suárez found the unmarked Brazilian three yards from goal, but all he could do was shoot right at Casillas. From the resulting counter-attack Real Madrid sprinted down the pitch and a world class backheel from Benzema found Ronaldo and the reigning Ballon d’Or winner pushed into goal to level the score at 1-1.
The Real goal left Barcelona wobbling and Los Blancos were on the front foot for the rest of the half and looked like they might grab another, with a Bale chance in the 44th minute being the best look at goal before the halftime whistle came mercifully in time for the hosts. The stellar play from Ancelotti’s men continued into the second half and Benzema had a chance to give his side the lead in the 49th minute after a build-up started by Marcelo, but Bravo was up for the close-range save on Benzema.
With Real denying Barcelona their customary pass-and-move football, it took some resourcefulness from Luis Enrique’s men to wrestle control back of the match. Alves played a Premier League-type long ball up to Suárez, and the former Liverpool man collected the pass amid two Real defenders and slotted a shot past Casillas inside the far post to give Barcelona 2-1 lead in the 57th minute.
As so often happens in a Clásico, the referee soon became one of the protagonists of the match, with Mateu Lahoz incurring the wrath of the home fans by not whistling a foul and possible second yellow on Carvajal when Neymar went down. It was part of a 20-minute stretch in the second half where Lahoz pulled out the yellow card on numerous occasions and the football seemed to take a back seat.
Yet with the minutes tricking away, the level of play rose once again and Barcelona could have salted away the match with chances in the 74th minute only for Messi and Neymar to fire wide, respectively. But then Benzema came agonizingly close to equalizing on a 79th minute shot that took a wicked deflection off Piqué, but the Chilean stopper dove to his left and tipped the ball wide.
In the 86th minute it was Alba’s turn to be left ruing a missed chance as the speedy fullback was unable to finish past Casillas after a surgically placed pass from Messi. A minute later it was Alba and Messi connecting again, this time the Argentine the beneficiary, but Casillas produced another massive save to keep Real in the match. But in the end Real simply did not have the legs to run down Barcelona, who were content to possess and pass the ball around to kill off the match and earn a healthy cushion at the top of the table.