Barcelona did not waste a second to chase the game
After historic days from the midfielders and forwards, some could still argue that Barcelona’s Man of the Match should have been Claudio Bravo. A point-blank stop of Cristiano Ronaldo summed up the day for the Chilean netminder, who collected his fifth straight clean sheet.
The defense in front of him limited Real Madrid’s chances, but every time they got into the penalty box they were thwarted by Bravo. Bravo’s confidence seemed to trickle up the pitch, especially through the spine of the team, as Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were especially tidy in their work.
If the Blaugranas are able to keep up a level similar to what they played at the Bernabeu, they are the favorites to repeat as La Liga champions and should challenge for that first ever back-to-back Champions League crown.
Barca won El Clasico game before Lionel Messi was subbed in
Up to the 0-3, Luis Enrique had the luxury of subbing on a three-time Ballon d’Or winner in Lionel Messi. Was he risking the Argentine in his first match back from injury in a match that already looked decided?
Messi looked fit enough for the match, replacing Ivan Rakitic and allowing Luis Suarez to move around more as Messi looked for the ball more centrally. Messi didn’t get on the scoresheet, but his impact may have been more symbolic than physical.
By displaying to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu that Barcelona could defeat them without their talisman, putting in Messi was the icing on the cake. Messi entering at that juncture seemed to be the moment where Barcelona symbolically beat the transfer ban, showing not only that they survived the controversial punishment and tons of injuries, but that they are still the top team in La Liga after all that adversity.
Real Madrid were a shadow of their former selves
Any success that Real Madrid has had against Barcelona over the last few years has come on the counterattack. Through Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Rafa Benitez should have expected that his team could exploit Barcelona’s defence.
In the first few matches of the season, Barcelona’s defense looked suspect and couldn’t go 90 minutes without conceding. Of late, their defense has looked much better and that was the backline that showed up against Ronaldo and company. Even after Javier Mascherano left with an injury, Jeremy Mathieu entered the contest and didn’t miss a beat.
Other than a few opportunities around the 70th minute, Real Madrid had little success on the counterattack and had to consistently try different things to foil the Barcelona defense; to no avail.
Iniesta extends his legend as El Ilusionista
Andres Iniesta played about as perfect as match as someone could play. Like Ronaldinho before him, the midfield maestro had the kind of performance that brought the Santiago Bernabeu faithful to their feet in appreciation for their opponent as they flew their white handkerchiefs in surrender.
Scoring his first goal since March of 2014 capped off a showcase for the ages. Iniesta’s passing was spot-on and his control of the game’s tempo was masterful. Simply put, Iniesta had a game to remember, perhaps his best ever.
Sergi Roberto steps up as Barça’s secret weapon
While fans did get to see the return of the MSN trident of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, the surprising decision to put Sergi Roberto on the right wing to start the game proved to be an extraordinary decision by Luis Enrique, especially when the La Masia graduate put a pass on a dime to Suarez for the opening goal.
The decision to start Rakitic, Iniesta and Roberto together indicated that Enrique wanted to start his most in-form starting XI, while Benitez took chances by putting some his recently injured superstars into the line-up.
The Asturian’s strategy of relying on Neymar and Suarez for scoring while his midfield controlled the game worked out to great effect, getting two goals from Suarez and a La Liga-leading 12th goal from the Brazilian to go along with the heel pass to Iniesta.