“I have good memories of playing at the Bernabéu,” Xavi Hernández had said and here was another one for the collection. It may even have given him even more satisfaction than all those other nights, his first visit from him as Barcelona’s coach, the man entrusted with their revival from him, seeing his side end a run of five consecutive classic defeats with an astonishing 4-0 victory at the home of their greatest rivals.
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 classics past where Barcelona “played good football and won, where we felt like we were better than them,” this was much the same, suggesting a seismic shift for his club. With Madrid still 12 points ahead of Barcelona, it is too late for this season – and that fact may have played its part – but maybe not for next year and beyond.
After five consecutive classic defeats, Barcelona produced a performance that suggests they really might be back, enjoying watching this arena emptying early again. It had all been done early, finished before the hour, effectively done before the break. By the end, the only surprise was that the margin wasn’t even greater. It wouldn’t have been unjust.
So dominant had Barcelona become by the end of the first half that when the teams walked off the place was almost silent, apart from a chant of “Futbol Club Barcelona” from high in the north-east corner. The 300 or so Barcelona fans up there had been audible for a while, mostly only competing with whistles of frustration from the home fans as time went on. There had been a serenade of Xavi and even “olés” as their team moved the ball around the pitch, no longer in a hurry.
Barcelona had a 2-0 lead, and almost complete control, Araújo heading in the second not long before the break. The Uruguayan had been included as a means of protection, Xavi concerned enough about Vinícius to include him at full-back instead of Dani Alves – left out of a league game for the first time since his arrival. Stronger, taller, faster, Araújo was tested after just four minutes when Vinícius was sent dashing up the left to set up Fede Valverde for the first shot of the night, arriving in the area to hit a side-footer low towards the far post, where it was pushed away by Marc-André Ter Stegen.
If that was a warning, an even better chance and save followed almost immediately at the other end. Ferran Torres was released up the left by Sergio Busquets. His delivery of him found Aubameyang inside the six-yard box, sweeping at the ball first time. The contact wasn’t clean and Courtois failed to stop it, De Jong collecting the loose ball and giving it to Dembélé. Again, Courtois was there. Every week there is at least one superb moment from the man with a strong claim to be not just La Liga’s best goalkeeper but its best player; most weeks there are significantly more than that.
Again he saved when Aubameyang was slipped into the area by Frenkie de Jong. And nor was that chance the only thing that would have concerned Carlo Ancelotti, his initial plan broken. The absence of Karim Benzema had seen Luka Modric deployed in what could almost be described as a false 9 role behind Vinícius and Rodrygo. If it had been designed to give them more control in the middle, it didn’t really work, Barcelona soon in control.
Torres had bent a shot just past the far post. Glorious footwork and a scooped ball from Pedri had given Torres a second chance before Casemiro slid in to block. And then, just before the half hour, Aubameyang headed in Dembélé’s superb cross for his sixth league goal since joining from Arsenal.
There was a reminder of Madrid’s threat when they suddenly broke from a corner, Pedri desperately grabbing at Modric’s shirt but unable to prevent the pass that sent Vinicius away. But, faced by Ter Stegen, he fell over the ball and Barcelona soon reimposed themselves. Dembélé turned Nacho and fired off a shot that was blocked. Nacho, like Dani Carvajal on the other side, really was not enjoying this. And when Araújo leapt between David Alaba and Militão to score, this felt over already.
Soon, it really was. The second half was only 30 seconds in when Torres was clean through one on one with Courtois. He bent that shot past the post but quickly got another, Barcelona slicing Madrid open. De Jong and Dembélé combined, Aubameyang provided a lovely flick and Torres produced almost the same finish as he had two minutes earlier, except this one went inside the post.
Five minutes later it was Aubameyang’s turn, Torres turning Piqué’s long pass into the Gabon striker, who lifted it coolly over the keeper and into the net. Initially ruled out for outside, a long wait for the VAR eventually delivered Barcelona’s fourth, sending subs and staff sprinting on to the pitch in celebration. This was quite something to see, and a little hand – a little hand, one goal for each finger – might have followed fast, as might a hat-trick, Aubameyang somehow steering Jordi Alba’s pass wide from close range.
It could have arrived when Courtois pushed away another shot from Torres, Madrid finished off well ahead of time. It could have arrived when Dembélé shot wide from six yards too, and when Memphis Depay was denied by Courtois. Four would have to do. It’s certainly a start, Xavi the coach inviting a new generation to feel the way he had.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism