Barca brilliance or Madrid malaise?

There was no chorus of boos as Luis Suarez’s deft finish put Barcelona 4-0 up at the Santiago Bernabeu and little outcry of anger or frustration. Just pure bewilderment from the Real Madrid fans, who were forced to watch their side picked apart time and again by their most fierce of rivals.

Going into the match, Real Madrid boasted the League’s best attack and second best defence. No-one would have guessed either after watching the match, however, as Barcelona’s silky football yielded goals aplenty, while Los Blancos were found wanting at both ends of the pitch.

Predicting how a Clasico fixture will go is very difficult, which makes it one of the best derbies in the world. There only two constants: world-class players on the pitch and buckets of goals. But few would have seen such a thrashing on the cards, and one simply has to question how Rafa Benitez and Madrid got everything so wrong?

Little can be taken away from the majestic performance of the visitors. The passing was crisp but incisive, Neymar & Suarez continued to terrorise defences, Claudio Bravo made a number of key saves and Iniesta even left the pitch to a standing ovation from both fans. The fact that Lionel
Messi was surplus to requirements only serves to prove just how much control the away side had.

Yet madridistas won’t see it that way. Blame for the defeat will lie solely at the door of Benitez, as he and his team were booed at the final whistle. He sent out a side lacking in attacking threat, defensive organisation and discipline. Given Benitez’s reputation as a pragmatist, defensive fragility should have been the least of their problems.

The decision to omit Casemiro certainly seems a strange one. The Brazilian holding midfielder had started the last eight matches in a row under Benitez, but was inexplicably dropped for perhaps the one match where they needed his talents the most. The Spanish tactician chose to name the best XI players he could call upon as opposed to the best team to combat Luis Enrique’s team. A midfield combination of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos yields plenty of creativity and enough defensive might for some of La Liga’s meeker attacks, but insufficient for that of La Blaugrana.

As they pushed forward, there was plenty of space behind the midfield to exploit. Time and again, Neymar was able to freely run at the Real Madrid defence, with his dribbling and pace causing all sorts of problems. Madrid, by contrast, were afforded no such luxuries.

Players such as Gareth Bale, who rely heavily on pace and invading space, found their threat
nullified by the compact shape and hard pressing of the Barcelona players. On the opposite wing, Cristiano Ronaldo, usually one for this particular fixture, was equally invisible.

This game may have come too soon for Benzema, who hadn’t played a minute of football for Madrid since the capital derby at the start of October. Isco’s brainless swipe at Neymar compounded their misery, earning him an unnecessary red card – a challenge borne out of the frustrations
his side endured on the night.

So what becomes of Benitez? If rumours were to be believed, the Madrid board were already close to pushing the eject button before the Clasico, and the manner of this latest loss is unlikely to
help the Spaniard's case. But in the real world, few coaches are sacked after 12 League matches, and he will most likely be given time to try and win back the support of the fans, players and board alike.

Remember this is his first Clasico and it proved to be one of the toughest lessons in his managerial career. But Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and Juande Ramos all lost their first encounter with Barcelona. Benitez will surely learn from this loss.