Fabregas lifts Barca to top as Ronaldo fails to shine

Real Madrid 1 Barcelona 3

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The Independent Football

They were still singing his name at the end but Jose Mourinho's latest attempt at beating Barcelona ended in failure last night as Real Madrid's bitter rivals overtook them at the top of La Liga on goal difference.

Barça's coach Pep Guardiola had warned that Cesc Fabregas could be the difference between the sides and so it was that his second-half diving header ended the game as a contest.

Madrid took the lead inside just 22 seconds with a goal from Karim Benzema, only for Alexis Sanchez to equalise before the break. Barcelona were fortunate to take the lead in the second half from Xavi's deflected shot. But there was nothing fortunate about Fabregas's glorious third and Madrid were left cursing two misses from Cristiano Ronaldo either side of half-time.

Once again Ronaldo was second best to Lionel Messi, who made the first goal for Sanchez and inspired the visitors in the difficult moments after their disastrous start to the game.

Benzema scored from close range after Victor Valdes kicked the ball straight to Angel Di Maria. The Argentinian's original pass had been blocked by Sergi Busquets and the midfielder then blocked a second effort from Mesut Ozil but the ball dropped to Benzema, who scored from the rebound.

Real should have extended that lead through Ronaldo but he shot well wide after being played in by Benzema. He struggled to break down the Carles Puyol-Gerard Pique partnership that Guardiola had surprisingly reunited at the expense of Javier Mascherano.

Messi, in contrast, terrorised Madrid. He robbed Sergio Ramos only to see Iker Casillas save his shot, then created the equaliser on 29 minutes when he went past Lassana Diarra and fed Sanchez.

Messi was booked for protesting a Pepe foul on Sanchez and could even have been sent off just before half-time when he brought down Xabi Alonso.

Barcelona took the lead five minutes into the second half when Xavi's shot spun off Marcelo into the net. Ronaldo again had the chance to beat Casillas but his header from Alonso's cross went well wide and the consequences followed immediately.

Barcelona raced away down the right and Dani Alves crossed to the back post, where Fabregas (pictured with Messi) scored with a diving header. Within a minute Real had blown the chance to equalise and were 3-1 down.

Kaka came on for the home side and he had the best chance to peg a goal back but Valdes scrambled it away and Barça saw out time to move back to the top of the table.

Real Madrid (4-3-3) Casillas; Coentrao, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Diarra (Khedira, 63), Ozil (Kaka, 58), Xabi Alonso; Di Maria (Higuain, 68, Benzema, Ronaldo.

Barcelona (4-3-1-2): Valdes; Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Fabregas (Keita, 79); Messi, Sanchez (Villa, 84).

Referee: David Fernandez

Man of the match: Fabregas (Barcelona)