Bellingham Show returns as Real Madrid win Clasico thriller

MADRID — Jude Bellingham scored a late winner as Real Madrid beat Barcelona 3-2 in a thrilling edition of El Clasico on Sunday, leaving Madrid 11 points clear at the top of the table and — with six games left — closing in on the LaLiga title.

Visitors Barca went ahead early on at the Santiago Bernabeu through Andreas Christensen, before Vinicius Junior equalized from the penalty spot. Barca might have gone ahead before halftime, but with no goal-line technology in LaLiga, Lamine Yamal’s shot was judged not to have crossed the line.

Substitute Fermin Lopez’s close-range finish put Barca back in front midway through the second half, but Lucas Vazquez levelled just four minutes later, before Bellingham struck in added time.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, FA Cup, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
– Read on ESPN+: What would it take for Barca to catch Madrid?

Alex Kirkland and Sam Marsden in Spain break down what that result means for each of the LaLiga giants.


Real Madrid’s inevitable LaLiga title belongs to Bellingham

Of course, it was Jude Bellingham. Was there ever any doubt?

The midfielder scored twice to win the first Clasico of the season back in October in what could only be dubbed the Bellingham Show. Here, he dazzled again with another dramatic goal in added time, firing past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to effectively end the title race. Real Madrid will win LaLiga this season, and Bellingham’s part in that victory couldn’t have been much greater.

Madrid are now 11 points ahead of second-placed Barca. Six of those points have come from two Clasico wins, both thanks to Bellingham. Twice Barca went ahead here at the Santiago Bernabeu, and twice Madrid fought back — with unsung hero Lucas Vazquez the key man on both occasions — before Bellingham sealed the three points in the 91st minute.

This wasn’t a Clasico that Madrid had to win. They just had to make sure they didn’t lose, to preserve their lead at the top, and avoid Barca injecting some belated life back into the title race. So this wasn’t as all-or-nothing as El Clasico usually feels. But this is still the biggest club game in world football, and the atmosphere at the Bernabeu lived up to the occasion. Even the stadium’s new, imposing 360-degree giant wraparound screens were switched on for the first time.

This wasn’t quite Madrid’s strongest XI, with some tiredness from 120 minutes played against Manchester City in midweek. Coach Carlo Ancelotti made three changes, with Dani Carvajal, Nacho Fernandez and Ferland Mendy dropping out. Luka Modric — in what might be his last Clasico appearance — came into midfield, while Vazquez replaced Carvajal, and Aurelien Tchouameni joined Antonio Rudiger at centre-back. The absence of Mendy meant Eduardo Camavinga at left-back, with the daunting task of going up against Lamine Yamal.

It wasn’t all positive for Madrid. Barcelona’s opener will make for uncomfortable viewing for goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who was the penalty shootout hero against City. Lunin came off his line to try to reach Raphinha’s corner, couldn’t get anywhere near it, and was easily beaten. City had 18 corners against Madrid in Manchester and couldn’t score from any of them. Here, Barca only needed one.

Another worry was how difficult Lamine Yamal was making life for Camavinga, before he was eventually replaced in the second half. But it’s another, less exciting wide player, Vazquez, who deserves just as much attention. The 32-year-old’s dribbling run led to Madrid’s first goal, beating Joao Cancelo and going over Pau Cubarsi’s leg, for Vinicius to convert the penalty. And when Barca went back in front in the second half, it was Vazquez who responded to make it 2-2, meeting Vinicius’ cross with a cool far-post finish.

Vazquez got the assist for the winner, too, although by then the focus was, naturally, on Bellingham and yet another crucial goal in what has been a remarkable debut season. Over and over again, when Madrid have needed it most, Bellingham has delivered, the ultimate clutch player. And he might have just delivered them the league title. — Alex Kirkland

With trophyless season assured, uncertain Barca rebuild begins

Barcelona’s season will end trophyless.

This week began with hopes of reaching a first Champions League final since 2019 and cutting the gap on LaLiga leaders to Real Madrid to five points. It ended with a European exit and a third El Clásico defeat of the season.

There were moments in Madrid on Sunday when it looked like they would breathe life back into their fading title hopes. Christensen’s opening goal and López’s strike to make it 2-1 are the obvious standout moments, but this was also another night when 16-year-old Lamine Yamal once again showed how special he is.

There were other moments that could have changed the game, too. Barça will bemoan the fact goal line technology is not used in Spain after Yamal’s first half effort, spooned away by Lunin, was ruled not to have crossed the line. They will also lament poor finishing from Ferran Torres and lapse defending from Joao Cancelo.

Cancelo was beaten too easily by Vázquez, who was then fouled by Pau Cubarsí leading to the penalty Madrid levelled from. The Portuguese full-back then left the same player completely unmarked for Madrid’s second equaliser at a moment when it looked like the momentum had swung in Barça’s favour.

play

2:12

Have Barca’s defensive weaknesses cost them the LaLiga title?

Dan Thomas is joined on ESPN FC by Craig Burley and Alejandro Moreno to look back on Barcelona’s El Clásico defeat to Real Madrid.

If individual mistakes have hampered Barça’s title defence throughout the season, injuries have also played their part. There was another one here when Frenkie de Jong was forced off with an ankle problem late in the first half.

But, in truth, even a win at the Bernabéu may not have been enough. They would still have needed Madrid, who have lost just once in the league this season, to drop points in at least two more games, while winning all their final six matches. Perhaps it’s better to move on without the false hope three points may have brought.

Now Barça can focus on what comes next. It remains to be seen what the future holds for coach Xavi Hernández. Before this week, the calls for him to reverse his decision to step down in the summer were growing after a 13-game unbeaten run. Back-to-back defeats to Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid may change that.

Xavi led Barça to a first LaLiga title since 2019 last season, but it’s hard to argue they have improved this season, despite the additions of Cancelo, Joao Felix and Ilkay Gundogan. They have come up short against Madrid on three occasions and lost their way against PSG despite holding a two-goal advantage when Ronald Araujo was sent off in the second leg in midweek.

Gundogan told ESPN this week that they are experiences that will serve to improve the team next season. That’s a positive way of looking at it. There is also a talented young squad brimming with potential, but there are also financial issues and areas of the team which need improving. While the future is uncertain, the loss to Madrid means the planning can now start. — Sam Marsden