Five things we learned from El Clasico
A Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona blew the La Liga title race wide open on Sunday as the Argentine's hat-trick handed the Catalans a 4-3 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With Barca, Real and new leaders Atletico Madrid now all separated by just one point with nine games to go, AFP sports looks at what can be learned from the seven-goal thriller.
- Real have a problem with big games
Defeat may have been Los Blancos's first in 32 games in all competitions, but they have now taken just one point from a possible 12 against Barca and Atletico in the league this season.
Carlo Ancelotti's men also just managed to draw at high-flying Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal, which doesn't bode well with difficult away trips to Sevilla and Real Sociedad to come in the next three league games.
- Messi is back to his best
The four-time World Player of the Year said it would take him 10 games to hit top form after being sidelined for two months by a hamstring injury at the end of last year.
He looked as good as ever on Sunday as he not only scored three times, but also set up Barca's first goal, scored by Andres Iniesta, and the penalty from which Sergio Ramos saw a game-changing red card for a foul on Neymar.
Messi became the all-time leading scorer in El Clasico as he moved onto 21 goals from 27 matches against Madrid and took his tally for the season to 34 in as many games.
- Barcelona still need a centre-back
Barca were bailed out by their star man, but their defending at times, particularly in the first half, was woeful.
Messi's international teammate Javier Mascherano was the main culprit as he badly misjudged Angel di Maria's cross for Karim Benzema's second goal which put Madrid 2-1 in front.
Carles Puyol's departure from the club at the end of the season should free up funds to bring in the high quality central defender Barca have needed for the past two years since Puyol has become a peripheral figure due to injuries.
- Ramos red midst a problem for Madrid
Madrid, by contrast, appear to have three excellent central defenders in Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Raphael Varane. However, Ramos' propensity to get himself sent-off at crucial moments remains a problem as he saw red for the 19th time as a Real player and already the third time this season.
- Atletico the real winners of the day
Whilst the world media's attention was focused on the Clasico, Atletico quietly moved top earlier in the day with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis.
Diego Simeone's men now have matters in their own hands due to their better head-to-head record against Real, but still have to travel to Barcelona on the final day of the season.