Saturday, at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid, Spain, visiting FC Barcelona demolished Real Madrid 4-0 in the first La Liga Clasico of the 2015-16 season. The victory puts Barca in first place with a six-point advantage over Real.
In truth this was not a match from the 10th minute on, when Luis Suarez opened the scoring. Neymar, Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, and company, were simply too much for the likes of the rag-tag opposition they faced today.
In a game which Real needed to win but Barca could afford to draw Rafa Benitez, to his credit, went with an offensive line-up. James Rodriguez started despite his lengthy travel from much duty in South America, and was the only player to take a credible shot on goal for Real in the entire first half.
But the long and short of it was that Benitez got his line-up wrong, again. Karim Benzema was in no shape to play, as he was barely able to run and participated in but a couple of first half plays. In the second half he missed a series of opportunities that seemed to go begging for lack of form as opposed to anything else. But Benitez kept him in the whole game. Gareth Bale, in better physical shape, was simply not match fit but also played the full match. Jesse and Isco would have been the better starting options. But the former never played and the second, much to Benitez eventual embarrassment, came it too late and for the wrong player.
In defense, Benitez’s strength, he opted for the young Raphael Varane over the experienced Pepe. In any match but a Clasico that would have been the right call, but Varane’s inexperienced showed as both first half goals had major build-ups in his area. Sergio Ramos, always the right bet for a starting role, was nevertheless diminished due to his shoulder injury, and his play was unsure, always arriving too late to close down or jumping too soon to intercept. His erratic play allowed Sergi Roberto to find a comfort zone, which led to the first goal, and also facilitated Andres Iniesta’s choice of pass in the second goal—Neymar’s at the 39th minute.
Marcelo, who seemed the most match fit of the newly included starters, was simply playing with too many additions to the line-up to build any rhythm with anyone. Cristiano Ronaldo, the striker with the most shots on goal in La Liga had exactly zero shots on goal the entire first half. His first attempt at goal occurred at the 68th minute. He was simply never allowed to get into the game as Dani Alves and company kept him bottled up and the Real team could not find a way of getting him the ball in a position of danger. This, despite the fact that enforcer Javier Mascherano was injured and replaced early.
Then came halftime and Benitez’s chance to mull over substitutions, a time when a reassessment in the locker room should have brought about a realization that things were not going as planned.
But as the second half began with the same no-chemistry-team on the pitch it was a matter of single digit minutes before Iniesta finished off a superb Barcelona play. The visitors had another beauty of team play which saw the ball passed among three Barca players and ended with a back heel from Neymar to Iniesta in the box. The midfield maestro struck the ball brilliantly, if from just inside the box, and into the upper right ninety for the prettiest score of the night.
Eventually, the hapless Marcelo made way for Dani Carvajal, and the only effective offensive player for Real the first half, James, was substituted for by Isco. Benitez had no further ideas.
Luis Enrique took Rakitic out for Lionel Messi to return on a victorious evening and with the hopes of seeing the team welcome him back by helping him add to the score. The coach then took Iniesta out, to what turned out to be an ovation Madrid fans, substituting him with Munir El Haddadi. Neither substitution was needed.
With the score 3-0 Real Madrid seemed to swoon as they did against Sevilla earlier in the season. Suarez’s second goal at the 74th minute, making it 4-0, was as deserved as it was gratuitous, for Barca had already won the game in the first half. But the emphatic cherry on top of this sweet Barca Sundae was the 24-pass build up that led to Suarez’s score—that was textbook teamwork.
Finally, and so as to continue a Clasico trend, at the 84th minute, Isco committed a frustrated and petulant foul on Neymar, well away from the goal, that was sheer aggression and earned the Real player a direct red card.
By match’s end the home crowd had turned on their team and the white flags of surrender came out as whistles rained on every Real player who touched the ball.
Benitez, who had begun the Clasico press rounds by stating that “We’re at home and are the favorites to win,” ended the evening defending his choice of tactics and roster and fighting off speculation that his team is in disarray, with few happy in the locker room, and that his job was in jeopardy. Enrique was left smiling all the way to the Camp Nou.