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Ballon d'Or-elect Karim Benzema leads Real Madrid to El Clásico win over Barcelona

Real Madrid opened a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of LaLiga by claiming the season's first Clásico 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday afternoon with goals from Karim Benzema, Federico Valverde and Rodrygo. Ferran Torres got Barça's lone strike.

The Barça defeat reportedly cost Drake $600,000. The club was wearing the Canadian rapper's logo as part of its sponsorship deal with Spotify, and Drake reportedly placed that large of a bet on Arsenal and Barça emerging victorious Sunday. Arsenal delivered over Leeds United, but the Blaugrana failed him. 

After a wild 3-3 draw with Inter Milan last Wednesday effectively ended Barça's Champions League campaign at the group stage, manager Xavi had instructed his players to shift their focus to the league. The early returns in LaLiga had generated belief in the squad's revolution — top of the table on goal difference over Real after eight games, without defeat and with the division's best attack (20 scored) and defense (only one conceded).

Of course a Bernabéu trip against Real, who'd just cruised into the UCL last-16 for the 31st consecutive season, was always the ultimate litmus test for the under-pressure defense and the individual powers of Robert Lewandowski.

The alarm bells were ringing early and often with Vinícius Júnior running at Sergi Roberto and Barça's right. Real continued to probe that area, and the opening goal was generated on that flank after Toni Kroos absorbed Sergio Busquets' attempt at a tactical foul before releasing Vini Jr.

Roberto and Jules Koundé were toast, but Marc-André ter Stegen produced a good one-on-one save to deny the Brazilian. The rebound, however, fell to Ballon d'Or-elect Benzema for his fourth goal in six league games.

Real Madrid zipped the ball around with precision and Aurélien Tchouaméni was zen at the heart of it all, but Barcelona went forward through the genius of Frenkie de Jong and ultimately could've equalized in the 25th minute.

A ball to the back post found Lewandowski waiting, but the striker could only stick a boot out on the stretch and the bouncing ball met his foot and flew over the frame of goal.

10 minutes later, Real punished that wastefulness by breaking on the counter and cycling possession at the top of Barça's area before Valverde arrived with a thunderous finish. That's four goals in nine league games for the Uruguayan. 

The second half saw Real Madrid hand the initiative to Barcelona. The visitors cautiously looked for the one goal that would bring them back into the match, but there was always the threat of a mistake in possession leading to another lethal Real counter.

Torres, Gavi and Ansu Fati replaced Raphinha, Busquets and Ousmane Dembélé as Xavi looked for more inspiration in the final third, but even without the injured Thibaut Courtois in goal, Real's backline looked set to meet every challenge.

However, in the 83rd, Fati left Valverde on the ground before playing a ball across the face of goal that was met by Torres.

Fati's influence continued, and in the 87th, he sent a side-volley whistling just wide of the post with Real Madrid's defense scrambling. 

The drama was put to bed in the 91st minute when the VAR stepped in to give Rodrygo a penalty that the Brazilian converted.

The 3-1 scoreline somewhat flattered Real given the overall balance of the second half, and these two teams will likely be neck and neck when they meet again at the Camp Nou on March 19.

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