Clasico demolition vindicates Barcelona, shifts doubts to Real Madrid
A Clasico that was supposed to mean very little, in the end, meant an awful lot as Barcelona gave a resounding answer to questions about their revival and instead left Real Madrid shrouded in doubt.
Most believed there was no result on Sunday that could derail Madrid’s march to the La Liga title but even that feels less certain now. A defeat like this, 4-0 at home, and against Barcelona, was perhaps the only kind that might prompt a collapse.
In that regard, Madrid will be relieved, not only that Barca are still points 12 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand still to play, but that a two-week international break gives them some breathing space, time to stabilise and recover.
It will allow Karim Benzema time to recover too, with the Frenchman’s absence undoubtedly a factor in Madrid’s spinelessness against Barcelona, who took advantage to devastating effect.
Barca’s place in the top four is surely now secure, which will be celebrated by the club’s accountants as much as anyone else.
For all the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Xavi’s team on the pitch, the harsh reality is the club’s financial ills will take longer to cure. Only last week La Liga set Barcelona’s spending limit at -144 million euros.
They will certainly believe second place is now a realistic target, particularly given Sevilla’s stuttering form.
They might even look at Madrid’s remaining fixtures to come against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano and wonder if the comeback could yet be on.
“If there is the slightest option to take advantage, we will go for it,” said Sergio Busquets.
More likely, though, is the consequences of this result for both clubs will be longer-term and wider-reaching.
As Barcelona celebrated at the full-time whistle, saluting their fans up in the highest corner of the Santiago Bernabeu, one or two of the younger players began to jump and dance. Before others could join, a huddle was formed and when the players emerged, it was noticeable the celebrations were more restrained.
As Xavi said after the match, it had been a statement victory, one that will go down with even the most dramatic Clasico hammerings, but the table alone shows there is more work to do.
“We have not won a trophy here,” said Xavi. “We must keep working with humility.”
Yet Gerard Pique, never one to hide his opinions on social media, could not resist. “We are back,” he tweeted, while inside the changing rooms the players were ecstatic, among them Ousmane Dembele, who did not look like a player about to leave for free in the summer.
A victory and a performance like this will make current players eager to stay and potential targets want to come.
The problem for Barcelona is, for all the attractiveness of Xavi’s project, they will be restricted again to the kind of opportunistic deals that they struck in January with such success.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with eight goals in 11 games, has been a revelation.
But to keep pulling off similar deals will be difficult. Barcelona might well be contenders again in La Liga next season but the gap to Europe’s most rich and powerful will take longer to close.
Perspective was the key word afterwards for Carlo Ancelotti too, who reeled off Real Madrid’s achievements so far this season like a coach who knew he was suddenly under scrutiny.
It is testament to the depth of the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubs that for some, a whole season’s work can be undone in 90 minutes.
“I am very sorry for the defeat, I am very sad but I keep it in perspective, which is that we have a nine-point lead in the league and we’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Ancelotti said.
The two legs against Chelsea certainly assume greater significance now and it remains to be seen how much confidence is affected for the first game at Stamford Bridge, which is Real Madrid’s second match back after the break.
They will need Benzema fit and firing, with the Clasico underlining the failure of the club to sign suitable cover for the 34-year-old, and of Ancelotti to integrate his possible replacements. The plan to field Luka Modric up front backfired completely.
Any doubts Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had about Ancelotti’s future longer-term will come into sharper focus, particularly if he thinks one of the world’s most impressive coaches like Mauricio Pochettino, Erik Ten-Haag or even Thomas Tuchel could be lured in the summer.
Perez has opted for more conservative appointments in recent years, to oversee smooth transitions and to accommodate an iconic group of ageing players, but what the Clasico showed was Xavi’s Barca are a threat that cannot be ignored now. Madrid might also have to be bolder to confront it.