Throughout their 3-1 Clásico victory over Barcelona on Sunday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid appeared at ease. The goals were scored by Rodrygo, Federico Valverde, and Karim Benzema for the hosts, with a consolation goal by Ferran Torres for the Catalan team.
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Los Blancos take a three-point lead over Barca at the top of the LaLiga standings after nine games thanks to the well-deserved victory.
The difference between a Barcelona club that is still a work in progress and a mature fully formed Madrid team that knows exactly what it is doing was made clear in this game. The fact that Madrid had less possession (43.8% to 56.2%), fewer shots (8 to 18), fewer chances (6 to 13), and a worse XG (1.44 to 2.25) didn’t matter in the least. In particular, the chances that Benzema and Valverde converted into goals in the first half show how ruthlessly clinical Carlo Ancelotti’s team was in making sure the crucial moments went their way.
The experience of Ancelotti on the bench, David Alaba at the defense, Toni Kroos, who was excellent, Luka Modric in midfield, and Karim Benzema up front all give this Madrid team a battle-tested appearance. Valverde and Vinicius Junior, two very young players, already play with the mindset and assurance of veterans. Because Andriy Lunin was largely well protected in goal despite Thibaut Courtois’ absence, Madrid’s lead never felt in danger after Valverde made it 2-0 until those tense few seconds following Ferran’s goal back and prior to Rodrygo’s penalty. Barcelona may be improving, but based on this performance, Madrid continues to lead by more than their three-point lead at the top of the standings would indicate.
Barcelona’s season has begun with promise, but this week has served as a wake-up call after a hectic summer in the transfer market. They were on the verge of Champions League elimination after Wednesday’s draw with Inter Milan, but this loss has brought them back to reality.
They entered the Clásico atop LaLiga with the strongest offense (20 goals scored) and defense (one goal allowed), but looking back, it appears it may have been due to the caliber of previous opponents they had to contend with. They have defeated teams in the bottom half in six of their seven victories.
Now that big games against Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Bayern Munich, and Valencia are approaching before the month is up, Xavi Hernandez must motivate his team.
The good news is that this side still has undeniable quality. They are still superior to the other teams in LaLiga and based only on that fact, they ought to be able to stay up with Madrid, who currently sit three points ahead of them.
Although he didn’t score tonight, Robert Lewandowski has 14 goals this year, which is more than any other Barcelona player did the year before. Although there will be concerns about Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha’s form, Ansu Fati and goal scorer Torres both impressed after coming off the bench. Xavi must also strike a balance between the midfield and the attack. While Dembele performs best when games become more open, midfielders like Pedri like a more controlled style of play.
The Clásico is the ideal match to break a goalless streak. Benzema hadn’t scored since August, despite spending a month on the sidelines due to a thigh ailment during that time. Even when healthy, there has been a lack of focus and the impression that he has been playing just slightly below his dazzling best. A day before he anticipated receiving the Ballon d’Or, scoring first against Barca was the perfect response to any unwarranted criticism.
It was sad that Benzema wasn’t on the field in extra time to take the penalty that would have given him the chance to atone for his missed penalty against Osasuna earlier this month. He appeared to become weary as the game wore on and was substituted in the closing minutes. But it was a positive step anyway. There will be plenty of time between now and the end of the season for him to reach his level. Four goals from six LaLiga matches this season is a respectable, if unspectacular total.
Barcelona needs to strengthen its defensive setup and get rid of individual mistakes from their game before they can compete with Madrid or the top teams in Europe. At the Bernabeu, it cost them against Inter and ultimately led to their demise.
Kroos’s easy victory over Sergio Busquets allowed Madrid to score first. The German midfielder released Vinicius after that, and when Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a stop against the Brazilian, Benzema was left all by himself to score the game’s first goal.
When there was no obvious danger, Eric Garcia deflected the ball into Vinicius’ path for the following Madrid goal, and from that point on, everything was too simple for Madrid. Valverde was allowed to drill home from outside the box because Barca’s defense held off. Later on, when Rodrygo caught Garcia off guard, Garcia gave away a penalty, however, Barca will argue that a penalty should have been awarded for a challenge by Dani Carvajal on Lewandowski.
Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen’s untimely injuries will also be mourned by Barca, but they do not account for the recurring errors and structural issues.