Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 0: Van Nistelrooy helps Real deal a blow to Barça

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The Independent Football

Who needs David Beckham? Real Madrid began a La Liga match against their greatest rivals without their Englishman for the first time since he came here three years ago and on the evidence of this performance he will struggle to win his place back.

Beckham came on as a substitute nine minutes from time but he has now been left out of Real's starting line-up in six of their last seven games. Last week's shocking defeat against Getafe might have raised his hopes for a recall, but Fabio Capello, the Real coach, feels he can do without the former England captain, a belief that will have been reinforced by this win.

Real were full of attacking enterprise, particularly from the yellow-booted Robinho, and were good value for their win. For Barcelona it was another setback after their Champions' League defeat to Chelsea, but they are still top of La Liga and the result here could have been different if they had been sharper in front of goal.

Real fans were in a festive mood before the match began. Fernando Alonso, the Formula One world champion, is a Real fan and the big screens in the stadium broadcast the Brazilian Grand Prix, in which the Spanish driver finished second to retain his crown.

Within two minutes of the start the locals were celebrating again. Robinho and Guti combined to free Sergio Ramos on the right and the full-back's perfect cross was met by Raul, eight yards out, to head into the corner of the net. On 14 minutes Robinho ran down the left and pulled the ball back for Raul, who hit the bar. Ten minutes later Robinho broke and fed Ruud van Nistelrooy, but Victor Valdes dashed out and Real's penalty appeals for his challenge on the Dutchman were turned down.

Messi, from a pass by Andres Iniesta, curled a shot over from 12 yards, but Eidur Gudjohnsen was guilty of a worse miss, shooting wide from even closer range after Messi had burst past Roberto Carlos and Fabio Cannavaro and pulled the ball back.

Gudjohnsen was looking leaden-footed and until early in the second half much the same could have been said about Van Nistelrooy. But all of a sudden the former Manchester United striker burst into life. After 50 minutes the fleet-footed Robinho made another break, this time down the right, and he crossed to Van Nistelrooy, who beat Valdes to the ball to score Real's second.

Four minutes later the same combination almost created a thrilling goal. Robinho robbed Iniesta and passed to Van Nistelrooy, whose delightful chip beat Valdes but hit the bar.

Ludovic Giuly replaced Deco as Barcelona threw caution to the wind and the Frenchman's pace caused Real problems. Messi was still a threat as well and the Argentine shot into the side netting after another run down the left. Van Nistelrooy had a chance to seal the win when freed by Guti, only to shoot straight at Valdes.

Goals: Raul (2) 1-0; Van Nistelrooy (50) 2-0

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Helguera, Cannavaro, Roberto Carlos; Emerson, Diarra; Raul, Guti (Beckham, 81), Robinho; Raul, Van Nistelrooy (Reyes, 79). Substitutes not used: Lopez (gk), Raul Bravo, Cassano, Pavon, Mejia.

Barcelona (4-3-2-1): Valdes; Zambrotta, Thuram, Puyol, Sylvinho; Iniesta, Xavi, Deco (Giuly, 58); Messi, Ronaldinho; Gudjohnsen. Substitutes not used: Jorquera (gk), Motta, Marquez, Edmilson, Saviola, Oleguer.

Referee: A Perez Burrull.