By Richard Morgan | Chief Editor
Reports of Liga champions Barcelona’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated after
Saturday night’s Gran Clasico, won 3-1 by the Catalans, a come-from-behind victory over Real
Madrid that has now lifted Pep Guardiola’s men back to the top of the Primera Division standings, albeit having played a game more than their arch rivals.
At the full-time whistle, there were high fives all round among the visiting players, in stark contrast to their hosts, who looked dazed and confused, as if trying to work out where it all went wrong …
This was supposed to be Madrid’s derby to win, with Jose Mourinho’s side oozing confidence on the back of a remarkable run of 10 straight league wins in a row, and 15 in all competitions. Victory would give them an enormous six-point cushion over the Catalans at the top of the standings, and with a game in hand to boot. A win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, the experts and pundits confidently predicted, and a first title since 2008 would be theirs for the taking.
And when the in-form Karim Benzema netted straight from the kick-off, the fastest-ever goal in 216 previous meetings between these grand old foes after just 22 seconds following a horrible mistake from Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, the momentum was well and truly with Mourinho and Co. All the more apparent considering the fact that the home team had not dropped
Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona
Madrid were all over Barca like a rash, at times virtually playing with five men in attack when their opponents had the ball, smothering them high up the field and then when winning the ball back at pace, launching quick-fire counterattacks, or automatismos, as they are known in Spain.
Meanwhile Guardiola’s side looked a pale shadow of the team that had won the league and
Champions League double last season, constantly misplacing passes, while hesitant in both defence and midfield. That is, until another one of those individual moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi helped draw his side level courtesy of Alexis Sanchez’s fourth goal in his last three appearances.
And that strike on the half hour-mark appeared to act as a shot of adrenaline and confidence to the visitors, transforming them almost instantaneously back to the beautiful Barca of old. Now it was the Catalans winning all the 50-50 balls, while their passing became more crisp and accurate as a result and Madrid, like a heavyweight boxer having just suffered a glancing blow to the chin, needed to take a timeout in the form of the interval.
However, in the space of 60 seconds just past the hour mark and with Barca now leading 2-1, this fiercely intense contest was all but decided in a moment that both coaches may look back on come the end of the season as not only the turning point in the outcome of this match, but possibly also the title race.
We had been told in the build-up to this clash that Madrid were now the kings of the
counterattack, that they were at their most dangerous when the opposition had the ball, but it took Barcelona all of one minute to break up field following Cristiano Ronaldo’s glaring headed miss and work play out wide to the marauding Dani Alves, now stationed as a right winger. His inch-perfect centre was headed home by Cesc Fabregas at the far post and that, as they say, was game, set and match to Barca.
This may have been just Barcelona’s third league win on the road this season, but as they fly out to Japan in the early hours of Sunday morning to contest the Club World Cup, they will be comforted by the knowledge that in the past seven years, the team that has won the opening Clasico of the season has always gone on to claim the title.
Perhaps Barcelona should try being underdogs more often, then …?
Follow Richard Morgan on