The two best teams in Europe locked horns in Spain tonight as Real Madrid and Barcelona drew 2-2 in an entertaining first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu. I watched a lot of Premier League games this weekend and these two Spanish giants are several steps above even Manchester United.
Real Madrid had an impressive preseason and Jose Mourinho threw a couple of wrinkles into his team selection playing Ángel Di María on the right flank and leaving summer signing Fábio Coentrão on the bench. Barcelona on the other hand gave a debut to new signing Alexis Sánchez, while regulars Gerard Piqué, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodríguez were all left out on the bench.
Madrid as expected made the early running and Cristiano Ronaldo gave the understrength Barca problems early on. So it was no surprise when Madrid drew first blood in the 13th minute when Karim Benzema continued his excellent pre-season form by advancing down the right and picking out Özil, who buried the ball past Víctor Valdés.
While Real Madrid continued to boss the game, Barcelona were starting to find their feet the longer the first half and a piece of magic from David Villa tied the game up in the 35th minute. Messi found Villa on the left and the Spain striker curling a terrific shot high into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Then Barcelona shocked the crowd in the Bernabéu right on the stroke of half-time when Messi took advantage of a slip by Pepe to slot the ball home past Iker Casillas.
Last season it might have been game over at this point. But the gap between the two sides seems to have narrowed over the summer and Madrid rediscovered their rhythm after the interval and levelled in the 53rd minute when after one of many Madrid corners, the ball fell at the feet of Pepe, and with his back to goal the defender teed up Alonso for a well-placed shot to beat an outstretched Valdes and draw his side back to level terms
Real Madrid continued to press for the winning goal but Ronaldo, Benzema and Özil all missed very good chances late in the game to win it. And inside the final 10 minutes, both sides appeared to have clear-cut penalty shouts turned down: first, Valdes appeared to reach at Ronaldo’s legs as Ronaldo collected a poor parry by the Barcelona keeper.
Then, within four minutes of the first controversial incident, substitute Pedro was quite clearly taken out by Marcelo inside the box as he prepared to shoot at goal, once again to no whistle from the official.
So both sides head to the Camp Nou on Wednesday with the tie delicately balanced. Who do you think will win?