El Clásico, world football’s biggest match. A sporting soap opera, with so many layers of narrative, ongoing story lines, intrigue, subterfuge, skullduggery and drama.
In the week building up to the big game you couldn’t help but feel the tension, in ordinary circumstances any match between these two giant clubs is always tense but this time it felt like there was more on the line. For FCB, the last fixture in a week of tough matches, for Real Madrid attempting to halt a huge slump in form and for Julen Lopetegui, his job.
They say that in a derby match all form and anything you think you know goes out of the window, not the case in this one. Traditionally, Real Madrid play significantly better in the Camp Nou fixture, going into Sunday’s game they were unbeaten in the last 3, that rule was certainly thrown out of the highest window.
FC Barcelona, who were unchanged from the midweek win against Inter Milan in the Champions League, got off to a fast start with Philippe Coutinho opening the scoring after 11 minutes after some magnificent work from Jordi Alba.
After a period of the match in which FCB were dominated, with Ivan Rakitic and the brilliant Arthur controlling and dictating the tempo of play, Luis Suarez was fouled in the box by Raphael Varane.
In seasons gone by this would have been a huge flashpoint and contentious decision but now we have VAR. Referee José María Sánchez Martínez used the technology to correctly award a penalty to Barça which Luis Suarez dispatched past Courtois. VAR is a beautiful thing, it doesn’t detract from the tension or enjoyment of football, it adds a new subplot.
After the half time break, Real Madrid came out swinging. Lopetegui introducing Lucas Vazquez for Varane. The tactical re-jig seemed to inject some life into the players, albeit temporarily. Taking advantage of some incredibly sloppy defending, Real pulled a goal back through Marcelo. In this 15min spell, Luka Modric hit the inside of the post and Karim Benezma missed a glaring chance to equalise. All the impetus vanished from Real Madrid after that, maybe at that point Luis Rubiales had picked up his Julen Lopetegui voodoo doll and started furiously poking it.
Ernesto Valverde, unusually for him this season, made attacking changes. On came Nelson Semedo and Ousmane Dembélé. The arrival of Semedo sent Sergi Roberto into midfield, who was already in position before Semedo had taken two steps on to the pitch.
This is where Sergi Roberto put in his truly stellar work of the match. First he laid on a terrific ball for Luis Suarez to get his second goal, with a header so powerful it still seems impossible, it defied physics. Roberto’s second assist of the match came shortly after, again setting up for Luis Suarez to complete his hattrick. Suarez turned in a display so dominant and unplayable, the Real defenders will probably be having nightmares about him for days to come, the last 3 games have been a timely return to form.
You don’t really understand how dire things are at Real Madrid until you see it play out so closely before your eyes. The humiliation wasn’t complete. Arturo Vidal had been on the field of play all of 3mins before completing the scoring after some great work by Dembélé. Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro said they were “a disaster” in a post match interview, he wasn’t wrong.
For how abject Real were, FC Barcelona were brilliant. Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Arthur performing flawlessly. It was almost like Lionel Messi wasn’t missed. The next Clásico will take place at the Bernabéu in March, a new supporting cast with the departure of Julen Lopetegui will probably be in place but it will be the same extraordinary spectacle.