Messi dependence returns but Barcelona blow LaLiga title race wide open again

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It was a game that had everything; a controversial early penalty claim when Cristiano Ronaldo went down inside the area, Lionel Messi bloodied after a collision with Marcelo's elbow, a stunning goal from the Argentine wizard, a red card for Sergio Ramos, a late James Rodriguez equaliser and then a stoppage-time winner from the irrepressible Messi to cap it all off. In short, Sunday's Clasico lived up to its billing.

The 3-2 victory saw Barcelona displace Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga due to their superior head-to-head record and, although Zinedine Zidane's men have a game in hand, the race for the title is well and truly open again. Yet the game also brought a familiar issue to light for the Catalans.

There was a time at Camp Nou not too long ago when the goalscoring burden laid primarily with Messi. Regardless of the quality around the Argentina captain, Barcelona were very much reliant on their little magician up front when it came to finding the net. A word was even invented to describe the matter: Messidependencia.

With the arrival of Neymar in 2013 and then Luis Suarez in 2014, that problem appeared to be solved. Both the Brazil international and the former Liverpool man have scored over 100 goals for Barcelona since their arrival and Messi is no longer the only one capable of making the difference.

That situation has seemingly changed in recent weeks, however.

Suarez has been struggling to find his best form and is now without a goal in five games. The 30-year-old got a number of chances to add his name to the scoresheet at Santiago Bernabeu but failed to do so as Keylor Navas proved to be too much of an obstacle, while he did not even manage to get his shot on target on two other dangerous occasions.

With Neymar unavailable due to suspension - and having scored a mere nine goals in LaLiga this term anyway - Luis Enrique put his faith in Paco Alcacer, but the former Valencia forward once more failed to justify his hefty price-tag. He might have shown signs of improvement recently, but his poor finish in the 56th minute was further proof he is not at the same level as his attacking team-mates.

Yet Barcelona still emerged victorious, and they had Messi to thank for it.

The Argentine impressed early on when leaving Casemiro in his wake after a sublime individual action and he single-handedly got them back in the game when he found the net after shaking off Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal before slotting a low finish past Navas.

The 29-year-old continued to be the main threat and it was no surprise he was the one who eventually scored the winner in the 92nd minute with his 500th goal for the Blaugrana. It was a fitting reward for arguably the best player in the world.

As for Real Madrid, they still sit in pole position to win the title, but Zidane has every reason for concern.

Casemiro has been crucial for to their midfield balance this season, but the Brazilian was run ragged as he failed to contain Messi. The holding midfielder was fortunate to escape a red card in the Champions League win over Bayern Munich in midweek and found himself in very much the same situation on Sunday, bringing down Messi on three occasions after his yellow card early on. 

And Casemiro was not the only one whose discipline will worry Zidane, with Ramos' moment of madness in the 77th minute a reminder of the centre-back's darker side. The Spain international has been his side's hero on more than one occasion with his goalscoring antics, but he ended up costing his side here with his reckless - and utterly needless - lunge on Messi.

Madrid will likely be without their star defender for the next three games - and that could prove to be a major disadvantage as the title race goes down to the wire, with Messi showing he will stop at nothing to keep the trophy at Camp Nou.