The Barcelona steam train showed no signs of slowing down this weekend as Los Merengues were put to the sword in El Clasico – a sword wielded in this case by the unflappable Xavi Hernandez. With two majestic swipes of said weapon, the Madrid defence was carved open allowing Leo Messi and Pedro to calmly finish, thus placing one Catalonian hand firmly on the Liga title. In a somewhat scrappy affair, L’equip blaugrana were forced to dig a touch deeper than normal after Madrid gave them little time on the ball to operate in their usual slick manner. This is summed up by the fact that Madrid committed 29 fouls, compared to Barca’s 15. The Sky Sports commentator was a little hasty in announcing that it was “game over” after Pedro slotted under Iker Casillas, yet it was difficult to see how Barcelona would be so sloppy as to concede two late goals in this game. Xavi was gradually allowed to dictate play in his own inimitable way as Barcelona performed a ruthless and clinical raid of the Santiago Bernabeu, emerging with the invaluable bounty of a three point lead over their famous rivals, and a 2-0 head-to-head advantage. Coach Pepe Guardiola reacted calmly to the priceless victory, stating: “This win will be worth it if we end up champions – we’re not there yet and we have a few tough games ahead. ”
However the tactician will surely be immensely relieved his team have emerged from this tie with the win, and that his minor tactical reshuffle, involving Dani Alves being deployed on the right of the front-three, failed to upset the balance of the team to any damaging extent. Despite Real Madrid’s embarrassment of riches, Barcelona well and truly scored a victory for the ‘quality, not quantity’ idea. It has never been more apparent that filling a team with superstars does not instantly produce the perfect team. The blaugrana proved that even with a stretched squad, sticking to the principles of ‘the Barcelona way’ would ensure victory. Real Madrid are a very good team, and will soon be a much better one, but they can only learn from the ideals of their bitter rivals. Still in the early stages of gelling, Los Blancos are yet to develop a spirit and character that sets them apart from the rest.
Sections of the media predictably dubbed the affair a Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi stand-off. Therefore, also somewhat predictably (in retrospect of current form), it was the Argentine who emerged as the undisputed winner of the contest. With talk of Messi reaching fever-pitch over the last week, writers across the football world have been challenging their own intellectual capacity and creativity to come up with the required superlatives to describe the kid from Rosario. It is difficult to convert into words what is being seen by our eyes when Messi takes to the stage. What seems so apparent this season is the player remains entirely unplayable. Some of the best defences in the world have been positively strolled through by the little striker, leaving one wandering if Michel Platini will have to intervene, perhaps sanctioning Barcelona from playing him for more than, say, once every two games for the sake of fair play. That of course would be a travesty to the football purists, but the point remains it appears only a super-human effort will stop Messi at the moment. Along with his immaculate attitude and humility, it is also hard to see how the player himself could contribute to his own downfall in any way – as was the case with Diego Maradona.
The week ahead is an important time for Barcelona, as two more league games are crammed into the space of four days. The squad will have to keep celebrations to a minimum after the derby victory, as they prepare to face Deportivo at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Anything but a win will be unacceptable of course, and Barca could well welcome the return of emphatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the tie. Despite the success of the last three games while he has been absent, the team have at times appeared to have missed the physical presence of the talismanic Swede. Now that he is seemingly returning to form again at the right time, his comeback could prove pivotal for ensuring the blaugrana take maximum points from the rest of the bread-and-butter league games – such is Ibra’s habit of scoring important goals. After destroying the previously immaculate home record of Real Madrid, one could be forgiven for assuming that Barcelona can now go on to see out the season in comfort and style.