“I have good memories of the Bernabéu,” Xavi Hernández had said and here was another one for the collection. “Historic,” he called it and it may have given him even more satisfaction than all those other nights as a player. His first visit as Barcelona’s coach, the man entrusted with their revival, saw a run of five consecutive clásico defeats come to a close with an astonishing 4-0 victory at their greatest rivals. An ideologue committed to his footballing faith, he always believed but it still wasn’t supposed to be this good this soon.
Two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and one each from Ronald Araújo and Ferran Torres completed the scoring but not the story. If Xavi had fondly recalled clásicos where Barcelona “played good football and won, where we felt superior to them”, this was the same, suggesting a seismic shift for his club. With Madrid still 12 points ahead of them, it is too late for this season – and that could have played its part – but maybe not for next year and beyond.
“We’re back!” Gerard Piqué said post-game and Barcelona produced a performance that suggests he might not be far wrong. The contest, insofar as there was one, was over before the hour. Maybe even before the break, the stadium almost silent as they walked off at half-time. Apart, that was, from the high north-east corner where 300 or so Barcelona fans had been audible for a while, serenading Xavi and indulging in “olés”.
From Madrid fans, what little sound there was mostly came in the form of whistles as they watched their team collapse. Barcelona already had a 2-0 lead and complete control. Included as a means of protection against the threat of Vinícius Jr and tested when the Brazilian set up Fede Valverde for the first shot of the night after four minutes, Araújo had instead headed in the second.
If Vinícius’s early run was a warning, it was a fleeting moment and an even better chance and save immediately followed at the other end when Aubameyang was stopped by Thibaut Courtois inside the six-yard box and then saw the keeper deny Ousmane Dembélé. Every week there is at least one superb moment from Madrid’s keeper; here there were more. But for him and a series of misses, this could have been six or seven – a fact they lamented on the Barcelona bench.
Madrid had more to lament. The absence of Karim Benzema had led to Luka Modric being deployed almost as a false nine behind Vinícius and Rodrygo. If Carlo Ancelotti’s plan had been designed to give them more control, it didn’t really work. If his shift to three central defenders at the start of the second half was supposed to bring security that would end up being a still greater failure.
Even before Barcelona had led, Torres had bent a shot just past the post, and glorious footwork and a scooped ball from Pedri had given the former City forward a second chance that Casemiro slid to block. Then, just before the half hour, Aubameyang did find a way through, heading in Dembélé’s superb cross for his sixth league goal since joining from Arsenal.
There was a brief reminder of Madrid’s threat when they suddenly broke, only for Vinícius to fall over faced by Marc-André ter Stegen and Barcelona’s grip didn’t loosen. When Araújo leapt between David Alaba and Éder Militão to score the second, this felt over already and soon it really was.
Ancelotti made changes but they didn’t work; they just made it worse, the second half was only 30 seconds in when Torres was left one-on-one with Courtois. He curled that shot past the post but quickly got another, Barcelona slicing Madrid open repeatedly. Frenkie de Jong and Dembélé combined, Aubameyang heard the call and provided a lovely flick and Torres produced almost the same finish as he had two minutes earlier. Only this one went inside the post.
Five minutes later it was done, Aubameyang clean through again and lifting it coolly, gently over the keeper and into the net. Initially ruled out for offside, a long wait for the VAR eventually delivered Barcelona’s fourth, sending subs and staff sprinting on in celebration and fans heading for the exit, just wanting to go home.
This was quite something to see, and a manita – a little hand, one goal for each finger – might have followed fast, as might a hat-trick when Aubameyang somehow steered Jordi Alba’s pass wide from close range. It might also have arrived when Courtois pushed away from Torres, Dembélé somehow shot wide from six yards and Memphis Depay was denied by the keeper. Four would have to do: it’s certainly a start, Xavi the coach inviting a new generation to feel the way he had here.
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