MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid beat Barcelona for the second time in five days, a 2-1 win on Saturday which will do little to prevent its fierce rival from reclaiming the Spanish league title but should boost Jose Mourinho's team for its Champions League trip to Manchester United.
Sergio Ramos netted the winner in the 82nd minute when he rose up to head in Luka Modric's corner to give Madrid its first home league victory over Barcelona since 2008, in a game that grew testy toward the end and saw Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes sent off for protesting.
Lionel Messi extended his Spanish league scoring record to 16 straight games when he equalized in the 18th minute to cancel out Karim Benzema's sixth-minute opener. That was Messi's 18th career goal in clasicos to tie Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano's mark set in the 1950s and '60s, but Barcelona was otherwise a shadow of the thrilling team that until last season had dominated the rivalry in recent years.
"We deserved to win. The team has been strengthened by these clasico matches," Ramos said. "We are going to Manchester convinced (we will move on) but with respect for our opponent."
Madrid even managed without Cristiano Ronaldo for much of the match, as Mourinho rested the Portuguese winger until the final half hour with the game against United on Tuesday in mind.
Ronaldo scored twice on Tuesday in a 3-1 win over Barcelona at Camp Nou that put Madrid into the Copa del Rey final.
While Madrid remains 13 points behind Barcelona in the league, this result could allow second-place Atletico Madrid to cut the deficit to nine points on Sunday at Malaga.
Elsewhere, Jose Barkero leveled one minute from time to give Levante a 2-2 draw at Valencia in a city derby. Athletic Bilbao won 1-0 at Osasuna, and last-place Deportivo La Coruna drew 0-0 at home with Rayo Vallecano.
Barcelona has flopped in its last three games against major opponents after also losing 2-0 at AC Milan in the Champions League. It faces an uphill battle against the Italian side in the return leg on March 12.
"It's impossible to keep up the same level of play for 12 months," Gerard Pique said. "But it is true that we have played three or four bad games and that is serious because Barcelona always has to win. But this team will turn things around. I believe that because this is the best team I have ever played on. I'm surprised so many people have already jumped off the bandwagon."