Barça still one step ahead of Real

Real Madrid 1 Barcelona 3

The Bernabeu

Pep Guardiola wished everyone a happy Christmas as he left his post-match press conference. It seemed a little premature but his team are now in Japan for the World Club Championship and will not be back until the 19th. And, after inflicting on Jose Mourinho a fourth defeat in two seasons, it probably felt like Christmas anyway.

After fielding so many questions in the run-up to the game about how Barcelona would cope with potentially being nine points behind Real Madrid at year's end, Guardiola remains unbeaten at the Bernabeu in four years as Barcelona coach and with his team top of the league. Jose Mourinho was asked if it was fair to say he had still not found a way to beat the current Spanish Champions. "If you look at the numbers then you have to say that that is true," the Real Madrid manager said.

The inquests centered on the tactical nuances of the two coaches – how Guardiola had moved Dani Alves from right-back to the right wing midway through the first half and how Mourinho had failed to respond. But the truth is perhaps far simpler: Barcelona have better players. For all Pepe's defensive heroics he can't match Carles Puyol for sheer bloody-minded resistance. The veteran central defender has not been on the losing side for Barcelona in nineteen months, absent from all of Barcelona's seven defeats in that time, and was immense alongside Gerard Pique once again.

Despite the occasional dazzle from Mesut Ozil, no one in Madrid's midfield dances through a match with so many touches, and half-touches, of brilliance as Andres Iniesta. And Leo Messi, on big occasions, gives a yard more than Cristiano Ronaldo. Twice Real Madrid's top scorer had chances to swing the game his team's way but on both occasions produced uncharacteristically woeful finishes.

"Luck plays a part," Mourinho said after the game. "With 1-0 we could have made it 2-0 and in normal circumstances Cristiano, who is a fantastic player, would score." That failure to build on the fastest ever goal scored in a Clasico – Karim Benzema's opener on 23 seconds – cost Madrid.

Messi brilliantly worked an opening for Alexis Sanchez, which was duly buried past Iker Casillas, and a deflected Xavi shot gave Barca a second-half lead. Ronaldo then missed with a header and, within 60 seconds, the visitors had raced to the other end, where Dani Alves crossed for Cesc Fabregas to head home his eighth league goal in 10 starts.

Mourinho is the first Real Madrid coach to fail to beat Barcelona at home in four consecutive games. This time, there was dignity in defeat – but it was defeat all the same.

Scorers: Real Madrid Benzema 1. Barcelona Sanchez 30,

Xavi 53, Fabregas. Substitutes: Kaka (Ozil, 58), Khedira (Diarra, 63), Higuain (Di Maria, 68). Barcelona Keita (Fabregas, 79), Villa (Sanchez, 84), Pedro (Iniesta, 89).Booked: Real Madrid Alonso, Diarra, Pepe, Ramos.        Barcelona Sanchez, Messi, Pique.

Man of the match Alves. Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Real Madrid 38% Barcelona 62%.

Attempts on target: Real Madrid 5 Barcelona 7.

Referee David Fernandez Borbalan. Att 79,900.

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