Barca are 12 points clear in the title race after Kessié’s late winner against Real Madrid | the league

After 26 games and 91 minutes of nerves and tension, a kick from Franck Kessié practically delivered the league to Barcelona. Barcelona had been hit by what appeared to be a Marco Asensio winner who would have reopened the title race only to see him ruled out by VAR and the tightest offside. Then they had resisted, and now they were practically champions. A final run, a heel from Robert Lewandowski and a throw-in from Alejandro Balde left Kessié there to complete the movement of the game and probably the season.

When the ball hit the net, it gave Barcelona a 2-1 victory in the classic and took them 12 points clear at the top of the table with 12 games remaining. They’d suffered, they’d been exposed, and they’d felt the tension building until the very end, but they’d held on to finally clinch a vital victory, that place erupting at the end of a pleasant encounter, which felt like to another world the last time these two great rivals met, cries of celebration echoed in the corridors of this huge stadium.

Last time out, in the Copa del Rey a fortnight ago, Barcelona had just 36 per cent possession, their lowest total being 800 games. It had been forced, not sought after, Xavi insisted, but debate has surrounded their style all season. The coach was the defender of Barcelona’s footballing faith as a player, an ideologue of possession and passing who insisted that at Camp Nou it is not enough to win. This year, however, it has been: enough at least to give them their lead at the top. They have won 1-0 nine times.

It’s not how they want it, but if they did it again it would be “fantastic, wonderful,” Xavi said. A final score of 2-1 was just as stressful, just as tight, but it would be even better. This time Barcelona took a lot more ball and more territory too – Frenkie De Jong impressed which was even more important considering Sergio Busquets’ tendency to give the ball away but hope for a win 1 -0 quickly flew away. so they should do it the hard way. Barcelona had conceded just eight La Liga goals, including three from Madrid; it took them eight minutes to concede another, and it was a chance own goal – the first La Liga has seen in a classic this century.

Moved to right-back, Ronald Araujo had been tasked with controlling Vinícius Júnior, as he had successfully done in previous encounters. Instead, his evening started by accidentally assisting him, deflecting the Brazilian’s cross into the net at the near post. It was the first goal Barcelona had left open play here all season.

If Marc-Andre ter Stegen failed to react in time, moving a bit slowly towards the spinning ball, Thibaut Courtois had a better night at the other end. He had made two saves in less than five minutes: the first on Lewandowski’s long shot, the second on Raphinha’s head. Shortly after, the same two men had the ball deep in Real’s area within a minute, only to find the space closed, and then Andreas Christensen headed wide.

Real Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior takes on three Barcelona players. Photography: Angel Martinez/Getty Images

It came from Raphinha’s cross. Much of what Barcelona did would. Perhaps too much of what they did, in fact, although the Brazilian was active, wanting to carry towards the box of Real. The visitors were ready to wait deep, a back four midfielder, Karim Benzema and Vinícius left in front. In Pedri’s absence, with Gavi unable to really enter the game, Barcelona lacked subtlety in finding space around the box, let alone penetrating it. And so the crosses came.

Christensen and Araujo had large heads. Then Raphinha came inside to hit a shot which Courtois saved. By halftime, they had managed nine shots, the last of them with the finishing touch of halftime to finally bring them a reward. It took three passes. Lewandowski kicked a ball in the face of the area; Raphinha swung and completely missed it but the move was kept alive; Araujo delivering. Raphinha’s first shot was blocked but the ball fell on Sergi Roberto, a surprise inclusion in the starting XI. Calm in a crowd, he took the side foot into the net.

Nacho had to stretch to prevent Roberto’s ball from reaching Raphinha as Barcelona tried to regain possession on the restart. And yet there was still indecision in the dangerous areas, an opening in the middle and a tendency to give it where it was least convenient. Nor was it easy to make his way to the edge of Real’s box where Lewandowski turned and shot wide, the ball deflecting Éder Militão’s heel. De Jong almost caught Real from the corner but struck over the top.

It was on edge, a game that seemed like it could go either way and would go on for longer. Barcelona knew a draw would probably do but were looking for a win; Real knew that a draw certainly wouldn’t do. The fact that Barcelona don’t seem to want to settle for that may even have been good news for them as the game opened up. Rodrygo was brought in on time, employed as a No.10. Another ball given by Busquets immediately gave him a fine goal view but the Brazilian fired over the top. Although Vinícius couldn’t find the pass or the finish, he was getting up and running a little more often now.

Real were struggling to create but Barcelona weren’t breathing easy and the chance to do so was denied them when Lewandowski badly clipped an acrobatic volley from six yards past Busquets’ clean ball. The cheers that greeted Vinícius’ shot soon after spoke of relief. Again, Real had moved into midfield; Barcelona were still looking for the goal that would give them some security. Gavi and Balde then created an opportunity for Roberto and Raphinha to combine, with Courtois fending off the latter’s shot. Lewandowski then converted a shot into the side netting.

The nervousness was felt in a pass from Jules Koundé who offered the ball to Benzema and the surprisingly weak shot that followed and more, in the long, long wait with 10 minutes remaining, when it seemed that the Real had had the winner. Rodrygo and Vinicius started the break, Carvajal crossed and Asensio converted it first time.

When Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea finally whistled, drew a screen and sent him off for offside, the roar was enormous. An even bigger one would follow soon after.

theguardian Gt

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