For a second it felt like a World Cup Final as the eyes of the whole world was on the Santiago Bernabeu. There was an embarrassment of riches on show in terms of the value of the players and expectations were high for both teams. For the neutral this game just had to be worth watching amidst all the media hype. And it did not disappoint unless of course you are a Madrid fan. Barcelona won the Clasico 4-0 and the manner in which they did was a sight to behold. They were ruthless, entertaining, commanding in possession and most important of all they were Messi-less.
The subplot going into the game was whether the attacking duo of Neymar and Suarez could continue their fine form without their partner in crime Messi and also if Madrid’s great defensive record in the league this season could cope with Barca’s attacking force.
Both questions were answered in superb fashion.
Barcelona started the game with Messi on the bench taking into consideration the fact that he was only returning from injury and needed to be eased gently into action especially in a game of this caliber. Bravo returned and Neymar and Suarez were joined by Sergio Roberto in attack. Madrid welcomed back Benzema, Marcelo and Keylor Navas to the starting lineup. Ronaldo, James and Bale made up the attacking quartet.
The game started with a high tempo as expected with Madrid edging the early proceedings- pressing Barca on the ball. However the first clear cut chance came Barca’s way when Suarez found Neymar with a back heel only for the Brazilian to shoot wide. It was like the occasion of the game was getting to some of the players and it showed in their rash clearances and passing. Obviously nerves were still dangling. Madrid had a chance to take the lead when Benzema caught Pique on the ball but it was spurned. Ronaldo was also thwarted by Claudio Bravo in the opening minutes.
The last four Clasicos have seen a goal scored in the opening 10 minutes and this one was just a minute over that. The goal came after some intricate passing from Barcelona ended with Sergio Roberto finding Luiz Suarez who finished it off with the outside of his boot giving the in -form Keylor Navas no chance. The Uruguayan is certainly in form this season and that was his 14th goal of an illustrious campaign so far.
There were a flurry of chances after the goal came from both teams but Barcelona looked the more potent in attack with Madrid players being wasteful and losing possession on frequent occasions.
Iniesta gave a visionary pass to Roberto who laid it off to Rakitic. He shot the ball wide and another chance to double the lead went begging. Madrid could have equalized through Bale but the Welshman also could not find the back of the net. James was stuttering in the match as he was finding it hard to influence the game in any kind of way with Barca in control. Benzema was also guilty of going AWOL. Mascherano suffered an injury in the first half which forced him off. He was replaced by Mathieu.
Barcelona got the all-important second goal after a through ball from Iniesta- at the heart of everything good- found Neymar and he slotted the ball under the arms of the onrushing goal keeper Navas into the back of the net. Madrid were unravelling and had to do something quickly about it.
They had no response though for Barca and the Catalans could have made it 3-0 before the break but were denied by a goal line clearance from Marcelo and a block from the follow up shot.
After the break Madrid were looking to get back into the game after that horror show of a first half. They began it well- testing keeper Bravo several times but the Chilean was not ready to give anything away. He made 8 saves in the whole game.
Iniesta got the 3rd goal on 53 minutes from another mesmerizing play with Neymar giving the assist with a back heel. The Spaniard deserved the goal after bossing the midfield for the Champions on the night- starving Modric and co of the ball. Munir was introduced late on in his place.
Madrid were out of ideas and not even the flicks and tricks of Ronaldo could bail them out this time out. He was really poor and this was a night to forget for him.
Messi’s introduction was eminent. The fact that Barca had done all this damage to Madrid without their main talisman laid testament to how far they had come and grown without him since his injury. Ivan Rakitic made way for him. He didn’t influence the game as he would have liked but his all round play was great as usual. His most significant contribution came in the build up to the fourth goal when his pass found Jordi Alba who beat the offside trap to find Suarez. The Uruguayan grabbed his second goal of the game- killing off any impetus Madrid had of getting back into the game.
Frustration got the better of substitute Isco as he lunged into a late tackle on Neymar which earned him a red card.
The win takes Barca 6 points clear of Real Madrid and in pole position to retain their crown even in the early stages of the campaign.
Criticisms will be laid on the coach Benitez for not being a bit more conservative in his approach and also to key players like Ronaldo who struggled throughout the entire game- being privy to half chances and stopped by good saves from Bravo. But that would be a total insult to Barcelona’s brilliance and total utter football domination which no team can have any answer to except maybe Bayern. It was like they took Madrid on a merry go round, dizzying and bewildering them with their passing and tiki-taka play until they were begging to be let out of their misery.
For coach Enrique, a repeat of last season’s dominance in Europe and domestically is not out of the question. From the evidence of today’s play Barcelona are back to their devastating best again and they will take some stopping.