Barca back-line earn Clasico plaudits

MADRID - Barcelona usually win praise for their free-flowing attack-minded football but it was their stubborn defence that was lauded by Spanish media after the La Liga champions defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in Sunday's 'clasico'.

Billed as a clash of styles, the results-orientated Real taking on the entertainers of Barcelona, the pulsating encounter produced a bizarre role-reversal, El Pais wrote on Monday.

"The best thing for Barca was the result, for their opponents the performance," they said.

Real successfully closed down Barca's creative department in midfield, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, all on the shortlist to win the 2009 Ballon d'Or award, kept largely under wraps, and caused the European champions plenty of problems with their swift breaks.

"In the absence of the violins, the three praetorians of the defence (Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes) kept Madrid out with an excellent defensive display," El Pais added.

It was a victory won "from the trenches of La Masia (the Barca youth system)."

The Madrid-based media championed Real's battling display.

"It feels like a victory," said sports daily Marca, while AS led with a picture of Cristiano Ronaldo holding his head in his hands, after missing a gilt-edged chance in the first half.

"Madrid found a way of playing but lost it's cutting edge," AS said.

The Barcelona-based press mocked Ronaldo, likening him to Royston Drenthe, who missed a sitter against Barca at the Nou Camp last year, and heralded Zlatan Ibrahimovic's winning volley.

"They said Ibrahimovic wasn't a player for the big games. Yesterday he was carrying an injury, came on the pitch in the second half, and scored the second time he touched the ball," Sport wrote.

If the Swedish striker was the only Ballon d'Or candidate to have enhanced his reputation with a winner in his first 'clasico', Real at least earned praise for their resolve.

But the jury remained out on coach Manuel Pellegrini, who has been heavily-criticised for failing to get the most out of an expensive array of stars.

"Despite putting on a good performance they remain a poorly put-together team," Marca wrote.

"The fact that Barca didn't score half a dozen against Real doesn't mean their problems have been resolved."