In a surprisingly open and one-sided night, Barcelona beat Real Madrid in El Clásico.
This was Barça’s second win at the Santiago Bernabeu in just a little over 72 hours. Following their victory in the Copa del Rey, they now have moved themselves 12 points ahead of Los Blancos in La Liga. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Gerard Piqué
Barcelona have won 11 games at the Santiago Bernabeu in the last 10 years and Gerard Piqué has been a key part of all of them. He’s played very well, even scoring in a thrashing, but tonight was perhaps his finest performance in Real Madrid’s back yard.
No centre-back routinely plays with as much risk as Piqué does. He’s slow, he has the turning circle of an oil tanker and he routinely plays next to a right-back whose idea of defending is occasionally bothering to flail after the winger who’s just blown by him.
Tonight he had to face up to the lightning-quick Vinicius Junior as well as a whole host of Real Madrid attackers. Los Blancos threw everything they had at Barcelona, knowing that they had to win tonight to keep any hope of winning La Liga alive. But every time the ball went in, Piqué got it out. He was aided by Clement Lenglet, sure, but Piqué was immense.
13 clearances, 3 interceptions and 3 blocked shots (all game highs) and he even took the time to dribble across his own goal-line with Karim Benzema hot on his tail, capping off a week in which he spent 180 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu and didn’t see a single goal scored against his team, largely off the back of his own magnificent efforts.
Loser: Gareth Bale
It’s hard playing for Real Madrid. Gareth Bale has won Los Blancos two Champions League finals and single-handedly fired them to a third, yet because he hasn’t learned Spanish and has struggled to settle in Madrid and, frankly, has struggled to play consistently to a very high level – the fans simply don’t love him.
Not only do they not love him, but they seem to actively despise him. Today as he was taken off the Bernabeu erupted in a chorus of whistles and jeers. He had played an hour but the fans seem to be saying that was one hour too many. In fairness, Bale had been very poor, failing to even once trouble the Blaugrana with his skill or pace.
If this proves to be his last Clásico, that would be a most ignominious end for a player who was once the costliest in the world and was deemed to be the future superstar and leader of Real Madrid.
Winner: Ivan Rakitic
Everyone lost their minds of Luka Modric’s displays at the World Cup this summer, and sure he was great, but Ivan Rakitic was just as good and no one seemed to care. Moreover when the pair meet head-to-head in El Clásico, Rakitic routinely outplays Modric to quite absurd degrees. Yet all the hype goes to the Madrid man.
Tonight, again, Rakitic bossed his compatriot in the middle of the pitch. Rakitic isn’t the flashiest player but he offers relentless solidity, protecting against opponent incursions so well. He defends the counter as well as Sergio Busquets, which allows the Catalan to push up and be a playmaker in the middle of the park. And he even offered a bit of flash today as he ran clean-through on goal and lifted the ball beautifully over the onrushing Thibaut Courtois. The goal won the game and knocked Madrid out of the title race just two days into March.
Can he finally get some hype?
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Loser: Nelson Semedo
Poor Nelson Semedo. He absolutely bossed Vinicius Junior in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final but struggled in the second leg as Vinicius’ pace gave him trouble (for what it’s worth he also defended the young Brazilian quite well plenty of times). This obviously played on the mind of Ernesto Valverde as despite a string of excellent displays, Semedo was dropped for Sergi Roberto.
And to make matters worse? Roberto assisted Barcelona’s only goal of the game with a delightful through-ball for Ivan Rakitic. Moreover, Vinicius was in a less bullish mood than midweek so Roberto wasn’t as exposed as Semedo was defensively (it also helped that Ivan Rakitic helped him out a bunch, whereas Roberto himself left Semedo isolated). So whichever way you look at it, Roberto just took a big leap forward in the race to be Barcelona’s no. 1 right-back.
For the first time in 87 years, Barcelona have won more Clásicos than Real Madrid. They came into this week having won 94 to Madrid’s 95. The Copa win levelled it up and tonight they took the lead. That is a delightful little footnote, but what really mattered today was that the Blaugrana kept a clean sheet and won a massive away game to give themselves a huge lead in La Liga.
They are now 10 points ahead of second-place Atlético Madrid, a crucial lead as Atleti will surely win tomorrow meaning the gap will stay at 7 which is comfortable as it gives the Blaugrana a three game cushion (and they have more than double the goal difference). Meanwhile Barcelona are 12 points ahead of Real Madrid, but Los Blancos haven’t been relevant in La Liga’s title race since winning the thing back in May 2017, so that’s just a bit of fun.
Still, the win allows Barça to move forward into the Champions League and the Copa del Rey final knowing that despite all their woes and struggles this season, they’ve now got one-hand on retaining their Liga title. A huge victory.
Loser: Santiago Solari
Santi Solari has become the first Real Madrid manager since Leo Beenhakker (ask your parents) to have failed to win any of his first three Clásicos in charge. That’s bad. That’s really bad. Los Blancos are defined on such big games and their ability to win them so being unable to register a victory, or even come close to one, is so damning.
What’s more damning was the staggering ease with which Barcelona won tonight. The scoreline was only 0-1 and Gerard Piqué was superb, sure, but Marc-André Ter Stegen didn’t have a serious save to make and if Luis Suárez had any athleticism left in his legs (or if Ernesto Valverde had the guts to take him off and put Ousmane Dembélé or Malcom up-front) this would have been a thrashing because Madrid left almost comedic amounts of space on the break.
Real Madrid are not just worse than Barcelona, that’s been the case for all but one (maybe two) year(s) in the last decade, they’re not even close. They’ve gotten further behind than they were under Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari needs to take a lot of the blame for that. It’s not enough to just throw the kids onto the field, you have to do so with a clear idea of what to do. This isn’t a game of FIFA 19, you can’t just abuse Vinicius Junior’s pace and hope to prosper. And play Dani Ceballos!