The clash between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F., also known as “El Clasico” (The Classic One), is one prominent fixture that garners the attention of football aficionados around the world. The clash of the Spanish titans has been utterly dominated by Barcelona since Pep Guardiola transformed the team back in 2008. However, the onslaught was slightly lessened during Zinedine Zidane’s stint as Real Madrid’s manager. Zidane’s departure, along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus, has left a gaping hole in Madrid’s footballing arsenal. Faltering in several games since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, Madrid fans hoped their team would turn the tide in the El Clasico fixture.
Madrid’s hopes were also raised by the sudden arm injury to Lionel Messi, an incident that sidelined him out of the game. The match was the first Clasico since 2007 to be played without both Messi and Ronaldo. Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui fielded the strongest side on the pitch, led by Benzema, Bale, and Isco. However, Barcelona proved that they don’t really require Messi to deliver a strong performance. Ex-Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring for the Blaugrana’s in the 11th minute, with a cool left-footed finish to beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Jordi Alba’s incessant runs along the left flank opened up Madrid’s defense on numerous occasions. In the 30th minute, as Raphaël Varane seemingly brought down Luis Suarez in the box, the referee awarded Barcelona a penalty after consulting with VAR. Suarez converted the penalty with a deft finish, giving Barcelona a much deserved 2-0 lead into halftime.
However, Real Madrid looked like a changed team coming out in the second half as Lopetegui changed tactics to give Marcelo more freedom to attack down the left flank. It was him who managed to score and give Madrid a lifeline. Soon, Luka Modric also hit the inside of the Barcelona post. As Madrid kept the pressure, Barcelona’s defense remained rock solid. Against the turn of the play, Sergio Roberto tore down the right side in the 75th minute and crossed the ball to Suarez who brilliantly headed it in for his second and Barcelona’s third of the night. Soon after, a mistake in Madrid’s defense allowed Suarez to run free and dink the ball over Courtois to complete his hat-trick. A few minutes later, Vidal headed in from Dembele’s cross to make it five goals for the night.
As a jubilant Lionel Messi celebrated from the stands, the night belonged to Suarez who silenced his critics after falling short of goals in the season. Jordi Alba, once again, proved why he is the backbone of the Barcelona team with his unending energy allowing him to race up and down the left flank. At the final whistle, Madrid players looked crestfallen at the defeat, clueless and uninspired after Zidane’s and Ronaldo’s departure.
As Real Madrid lie in 9th place in the La Liga standings, the management aims to finally sack Lopetegui and appoint ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to take his place. The prospect of a fourth consecutive Champions League title looks dim for the Madrista’s at the moment, but Conte might be instrumental in pulling the team together and showcase a respectable performance during the season. On the other hand, table leaders Barcelona are favorite to win the league, with or without the presence of talismanic Lionel Messi.