Luis Suarez applied a superb finish to a team move to open the scoring, before Neymar made it 2-0 following a fine pass from Andres Iniesta. Iniesta himself combined neatly with Neymar to thump home a third goal for Luis Enrique’s men, as Madrid struggled to cope with the intensity of the visitors. Although Lionel Messi came off the bench in the second half, it was Suarez who scored again, lifting the ball over a stranded Keylor Navas.Rafael Benitez was left on the brink as Barcelona tore his Real Madrid side to shreds in front of furious home fans at the Bernabeu.
Goals from Neymar, Andres Iniesta and two from Luis Suarez put the hosts to the sword as an under-pressure Benitez looked to shrug off suggestions he was a defensive coach by going all-out attack – and watching it backfire in spectacular fashion.
It was Suarez who opened the scoring, finishing delightfully from Sergi Roberto’s pass. And as Barca’s domination continued, Neymar squeezed an effort underneath Keylor Navas to make it 2-0 in the first half and send the hosts into half-time to a barrage of abuse. Andres Iniesta netted a third before Suarez grabbed a second and sent furious Madrid fans heading for the exits, with frustrated midfielder Isco joining them after a late red card for kicking out at Neymar.
But what did we learn? Ed Malyon was there:
1) Rafa risks it, Luis doesn’t:
In many ways Real Madrid’s preparation could not have been more perfect. First-team stars like Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were excused from international duty while others, including skipper Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Karim Benzema used the last fortnight as extended rehab to recover from injuries. It meant that Rafa Benitez had two weeks to decide on his gameplan and instil it in the majority of his first XI and, for only the second time since he’s been in charge, his squad had that crucial clean bill of health. Barcelona’s was the opposite, with star man Lionel Messi the high-profile doubt as he struggled to recover from a knee ligament problem and key players like Neymar and Javier Mascherano travelling huge distances after playing two World Cup qualifiers.
Mascherano, who played 180 minutes for Argentina, wouldn’t survive the first half. Rafael Benitez had spent the international break being pilloried by fans and media alike for being too defensive and had a very public dispute with a journalist during his Friday press conference where he claimed reports that captain Sergio Ramos and senior players had urged him to be more attacking against Barcelona were “completely false.”
Whether he was bowing to pressure or simply selecting the team he wanted with his entire squad finally fit, Benitez picked his most attacking XI in a bid to take the game to Barcelona, including James Rodriguez in midfield and picking his ‘BBC’ frontline of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and fit-again Karim Benzema.
For Barcelona the big question was over Lionel Messi’s fitness, but the Argentina skipper had to make do with a place on the bench as he continues to recover from knee ligament damage.
Rafa’s attacking intent – or what was perceived by those in the stadium as being ‘Florentino’s XI’ – spectacularly blew up in his face though. And it was dramatic…
2) The vampire with first blood:
With Messi not playing from the start, the responsibility for goals fell on Neymar and Luis Suarez.
They’d coped fairly well with that in the Argentine’s absence, netting every single one of Barcelona’s 17 league goals since Leo had been taken off against Las Palmas in September. And so it was perhaps inevitable that when Barcelona did break through that it was one of that pair who did it. Sergi Roberto, however, can claim much of the credit. A La Masia product who has plugged in all over the field for Barca this season, he drove across the pitch from the right-hand side, stepping perfectly into Sergio Busquets’ pass, before beating a man and playing in Suarez.
The Uruguayan had peeled off Sergio Ramos, leaving the Madrid skipper badly exposed, as he took his time to finish with the outside of his right boot.
3) Sergi Roberto taking his chance:
One of Sergi Roberto’s problems at Barcelona has been that it’s so hard to work out what exactly he is. A midfielder with obvious talent and a great energy, he’s not an incisive playmaker like Andres Iniesta is nor the metronomic holder that Sergio Busquets is or a driving attacking force like Ivan Rakitic.
Having nearly left last year – with Stoke close to nabbing him – his second chance at the Nou Camp came courtesy of an injury crisis at right-back where he deputised capably, and with a stay of execution granted on his time with the Blaugrana, he now has found himself starting games in midfield and attack as the injury epidemic spread. It was in Getafe on a mild Saturday night three weeks back that he made his first serious statement in a Barcelona shirt.
A rotating, no-look backheel into the path of Luis Suarez that set up the game’s opener. Suarez’s finish, prefaced by a delightful stutter to root goalkeeper Vicente Guaita to the spot, capped a sensational move in which Roberto’s flick was the glittering jewel. For Barca’s second he was once again the provider as his perfectly-shaped cross found Neymar at the far post, and the Brazilian found the net with an exquisite volley.
Those two assists were the first majorly impressive moments for his Barcelona highlight reel and a glimmer of what he may have to offer going forward – in both senses of the phrase. And it continued at the Bernabeu. Playing the hardest role in football – that of Lionel Messi’s stand-in – Sergi Roberto nipped in off the right flank and took a perfect Sergio Busquets pass in his stride.
Roberto drove infield, past a defender and then slipped a reverse ball into the pass of Suarez, who had found those pockets of space only he knows how.
It was a move (above) that encompassed 24 passes – the most for any La Liga goal this season – and went through every single Barca outfield player before being finished with aplomb.
4) Pressing issues for Rafa:
Real Madrid went with an all-star front four and Benitez asked them to press Barcelona high up the field. But it didn’t work. The hosts simply didn’t win the ball back in the opposition third as they needed to when committing so much manpower to doing so. It left them very open, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos being forced to put out fires all over the pitch. Indeed, Luka Modric was stranded when he lost the ball in midfield for the second goal.
The Croatian had nobody to pass to with all four forwards offside and was forced to dwell on it when he was robbed. Iniesta played in Neymar and it was 2-0. Stills of games can sometimes be misleading, but you must trust this correspondent that the following picture is entirely representative of why the hosts were so utterly overwhelmed in the first half.
5) Shut down the BBC?:
The most expensive frontline in football history was utterly useless tonight. All three were aggressive in their pressing early on but were bypassed, which when you add in their abject attacking performance makes them a trio of nothingness. Wastes of space. And then as the going got tough, they continued to do nothing.
Perhaps it was a gameplan that they shouldn’t track back to help out, but Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema left Luka Modric and Toni Kroos so isolated that the inevitable mauling occurred. It’s hard to decide who of the three will get assassinated in the Spanish press most tomorrow. Bale is the usual easy target but Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were both guilty of missing one-on-one chances that could, perhaps, have seen Madrid get back into the game.
That wouldn’t have been indicative of what they deserved though, and the front three in particular were taught a lesson on cohesion, effort and technique by Barcelona’s MSN.
Barcelona starting XI: Bravo, Pique, Rakitic, Busquets, Alves, Iniesta, Suarez, Neymar, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Roberto
Real Madrid starting XI: Navas, Danilo, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Rodriguez, Kroos, Modric, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo