Real Madrid’s 2-1 win in Saturday’s Clasico at Barcelona’s Camp Nou has led to a swing in momentum around both of La Liga’s superclubs.
Zinedine Zidane came into his first Clasico as coach with many predicting another big game defeat would see a rudderless Madrid spiral further out of control. Meanwhile, a super confident Barca looked set to confirm their status as the best team in Spain, and Europe.
It did not turn out that way.
A Madrid XI including industrious midfielder Casemiro did not play sparkling football, but after Gerard Pique headed Barca ahead after half-time, the visitors showed grit and character to turn things around even after captain Sergio Ramos was sent off.
Madrid’s big name forwards stood up. Pundits had been pointing out most of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 41 goals in 38 club games this season were against weaker sides. But number 42 was decisive in the year’s biggest game.
Gareth Bale was also key to Madrid’s late surge – unfortunate to see what seemed the winner disallowed, then crossing superbly for Ronaldo to expertly convert.
Karim Benzema also scored – meaning for the first time ever the ‘BBC’ frontline had started together and beaten Barca. All this reflected very well on Zidane, now only the third man [after Blancos legends Alfredo Di Stefano and Vicente Del Bosque] to win with Madrid at the Camp Nou as both player and coach.
“This can be a turning point – it’s very important, for the rest of the season, for our spirit,” the Frenchman said afterwards. “I’m very proud of my players, I liked everything about my team - in attack and defence. We made a huge effort, against very good players and gave everything for our teammates.”
It was not such a good night for Barca. The expected thrilling attacking display in tribute to recently departed blaugrana spiritual leader Johan Cruyff never materialised. Their South American trident did not fire, perhaps due to fatigue after the international break, but current talisman Lionel Messi is now goalless in his last five Clasicos. Luis Enrique’s one substitution was also questioned – as Madrid’s comeback came immediately after hard-running midfielder Ivan Rakitic was replaced by the less disciplined Arda Turan. Post-game Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano all lamented tactical and positioning mistakes while their coach admitted a first defeat in six months in any competition was a painful lesson.
“Losses can teach you that all trophies are difficult to win,” Luis Enrique said. “The players know how difficult any game can be, even more against an opponent who shares your objectives. What happened to us can happen in any game. We managed most of it, created many chances, but we suffered in the transitions in the last 15 minutes. It’s painful to lose at home, but it had to happen some day.”
With seven La Liga games left, Barca have a six point lead over second placed Atletico Madrid, with Zidane’s side a further point back. That should be enough for the Catalan outfit to retain the title, but a second successive treble now looks much less inevitable. Both teams now move onto Europe, Barca hosting Atletico tomorrow and Madrid at Wolfsburg.
In Zidane’s first season as a Madrid player he and his team struggled domestically but gelled in time to win the 2002 Champions League. Saturday suggested that story could well be repeated.
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