Having lost their long-standing unbeaten run to Barcelona earlier in the season, Real Madrid would have probably taken great satisfaction in shutting down their arch-rivals’ 39-game streak with a 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou.
The circumstances surrounding this Clasico were far from the norm – these clashes often decide titles. But with Real off the pace in La Liga and the 4-0 Santiago Bernabeu drubbing still in the minds of many, they had little left to play for but a modicum of pride.
They left with high spirits, renewed vigour and perhaps a glimpse of what the future may hold under Zinedine Zidane. Zizou is no stranger to El Clasico, however it was his first as Los Blancos boss. Though he was not on the pitch, it was perhaps one of his best performances.
Rafa Benitez had to play the unfortunate role of ‘guinea pig’ in order to facilitate this derby success. His side painfully found out just how ruthless this Barca side can be at their best. Madrid were handed a masterclass in attacking football, and it appears Zidane learnt from his predecessor mistakes – namely starting Casemiro.
The Brazilian’s defensive qualities are well known but particularly evident in matches like this, where he won his fair share of tackles. Madrid are more than likely aware of what he gives them, but with James Rodriguez and Isco also vying for spots, it can be difficult to drop the star names.
Of course, the game was won on more than that decision alone. The Frenchman seemed to have a game plan, which his players stuck to. Understanding just how potent an attacking force Barca can and have been this season, Los Blancos paid the hosts a great deal of respect.
They kept things as tight as possible in the first half and, while at times on the back foot, gave little away. How often, if ever, does one see Cristiano Ronaldo voluntarily tracking back and chasing down his full-back?
Barca seemed to ease off after scoring and they picked their moment to attack, sensing a real weakness at left-back, which proved the source for both of Madrid’s goals. Gareth Bale’s effort was perhaps also unfairly chalked off after he outjumped Jordi Alba.
It proved a tactically astute and disciplined performance from 10 of Real Madrid’s 11 players. All their hard work could so easily have gone to waste, as Sergio Ramos seemed hell-bent on sabotaging his own team.
Having handicapped himself with a needless yellow card for dissent, he seemed determined to see just how far he could roughhouse the Barca players – and test the referee’s patience – without seeing red. The experienced Spain international eventually did for a brutal tackle on Luis Suarez, which only served to galvanise his teammates.
Ramos jokingly quipped “If I knew that we’d win with one less man, I’d have got sent off sooner!” However, had Real come away from that game with anything but a win, accusing fingers will surely have been pointed at the centre-back and his senseless actions.
He was lucky to not have been run ragged as Barca were far from their brilliant best and rued a rare off-day for their attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Much of the pre-match build up pitted ‘MSN’ vs ‘BBC’ (Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo), and the latter trident took this round in the battle of the initialisms. The fact that both Bale and Benzema stayed in the capital over the international break would have served as a huge benefit to Zizou.
He will continue to learn the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of his team with every game, just as we learn about his capabilities as a tactician. But as far as his first major test goes, he passed with flying colours.