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Twice in a week

Monday, March 04, 2013

MADRID - Real Madrid beat fierce rivals Barcelona for the second time in five days, scoring a 2-1 win over the Spanish league leaders on Saturday in a boost ahead of their Champions League trip to Manchester United on Tuesday.

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 equalised 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 manager Jose Mourinho rested the Portuguese winger until the final half hour with the game against United 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, Markel Susaeta's second-half goal gave Athletic Bilbao a 1-0 win at Osasuna, while 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."

Madrid, meanwhile, played with more confidence even with a number of backups in its starting lineup as it earned back-to-back wins over Barcelona for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Midfielders Xabi Alonso and Mesut Oezil were also given a rest, along with forward Angel Di Maria. Madrid visits United on Tuesday with their last-16 tie poised at 1-1.

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