Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
February 17, 1974
Real Madrid – 0
Barcelona – 5 (Asensi-2, Cruyff, Juan Carlos, Sotil)
Few players have affected the football philosophy of a club like Johan Cruyff did for Barcelona. His arrival in Camp Nou in 1973 was a milestone in the illustrious history of Barcelona. Like his national team, the Dutch man didn’t win a whole lot of silverware during his stay in Barcelona but his overall impact went beyond on field influence. Few of his performances were more famous than the pummeling of Real Madrid in 1973 which paved way for a long awaited league title for the Catalans.
FC Barcelona became the first Spanish club to break the world record for transfer fee when they bought Cruyff in 1973. The club had failed to win the title in over one and half decades and needed something special. Bringing Rinuus Michel had not solved the problem, so the Dutch coach opted to bring in one of his most talented pupils. Cruyff would have to wait till the seventh round to make his official debut for Barça against Granada. The Catalans had won just two out of seven matches at that point, languishing at 17th spot. Cruyff changed it all as they embarked on an undefeated streak, starting with a 4-0 win in that match thanks to a brace from Cruyff.
After a disappointing season which saw them finish 4th, Real Madrid were looking to bounce back. After failing to sign Cruyff, Real opted for German pass master Günter Netzer. Their season never really took off as they continued to struggle and dropped out of top-5 by mid-season. As they lined up for El Clásico Real were placed a pitiful seventh in the table while Barcelona had a comfortable five point cushion at the top.
The controversy related to Cruyff’s transfer added more spice to this Clásico. RFEF had lifted the decade long ban on foreigners in La Liga that season. Anticipating the move, Real Madrid had already agreed to sign Cruyff from Ajax but the player outrightly refused to join after making a now infamous reference to General Franco. Cruyff signed for Barcelona on 13th August, 1973 but RFEF put his transfer on hold as news about Real’s agreement surfaced but bowed down later. This was his first Clásico.
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Real Madrid (4-3-3): Garcia Remon, Morgado, Benito, Pirri, Rubinan, Ignazio Zoco, Günter Netzer, Manuel Velazquez, Aguilar, Macanas, Amancio Amaro.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Mora, Rifé, Costas, De la Cruz, Torres, Juan Carlos, Carles Rexach, Asensi, Johan Cruyff, Hugo Cholo Sotil, Marcial Pina
Both the teams started with similar formations. A keen contest was expected in midfield where Johann Cruyff squared off against Netzer. The pattern of movement from both teams was firmly established in the first few minutes. For FC Barcelona, the strikers were dropping deeper with Rexach cutting back from the wings. Cruyff was given a free role in central midfield and he was operating in the space behind the strikers and Barça’s midfield. For Real Madrid, Netzer placed himself in a slightly left aligning position in the midfield three with Zoco giving him protection. Real’s strikers played in a more conventional position, choosing to play high up the pitch rather than dropping back like their Barça counterparts.
The first chance fell to Barcelona after Cruyff made a darting run from deep midfield. Benito failed to close down the Dutchman in the buildup but recovered in time to deny Marcial a shooting chance inside the penalty box. Real had a half chance of their own three minutes later as Amancio drilled in a dangerous pass from right-wing into Barcelona’s penalty box but Aguilar failed to reach it. Seconds later Pirri’s header from a Macanas cross flew wide of the goal. Pirri once again tested Mora on 13th minute from a shot just outside the penalty box. By this time Barcelona’s general pattern of play was better though Real had created more dangerous chances. On 17th minute Velzquez would miss what would eventually be Real’s best chance in this match. Macanas’s pass from the left wing was backheeled by Amancio towards Velazquez who somehow managed to miss from a hand shaking distance away from the goal.
That missed chanced seemed to have spurred Barcelona as they began to attack with more vigour with Marcial testing Remon with a long ranger a minute later. The away team opened their account just after the half hour mark after a delightful buildup. Marcial received a long kick from his goal-keeper, overlapped and passed towards Rexach. Rexach held off Benito and Zoro with some delightful footwork before releasing Marcial on the right-wing. Marcial received the ball, outfoxed Netzer by pretending to cross the ball. Netzer committed into a sliding tackle but instead slipped, allowing his opponent to cut into the box and pass towards Sotil, who turned it in from a narrow angel.
Barça almost scored a second goal eight minutes later as Remon came out of his line to punch out a cross from Marcial. He punched the ball on Juan Carlos’s head but was fortunate enough to see the header loop over an empty goal. 20 seconds later they had their second goal as the Bernabéu crowd had the first glimpse of Cruyff’s genius. He received Sotil’s pass and with his first touch already won the duel against Benito, his immediate marker. After out stepping a sliding Benito, he squeezed the ball between two more defenders and slotted in a right footer past Remon.
Barcelona seemed to have grabbed a third just before half time as Marcial headed in a cross from Cruyff but it was cancelled because of offside. The half time score read Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona. Statistically, Real were still in the match but they were completely outplayed by Barca for a majority of first 45 minutes.
It was the away team which looked more dangerous as the second half started and could have further increased the lead if Rexach and Cruyff were more clinical. The inevitable third goal came soon and exposed the sorry state of Real Madrid defense. Sensi received Benito’s misspass near the center circle and moved into the penalty box without a single opponent player trying to block in. He dinked the ball past Benito and then rolled it past Remon’s outstretched arm. 0-3 to Barcelona.
Real Madrid seemed to have pulled a goal back five minutes after Barcelona’s goal but Macanas’ strike was chalked off because of offside. Barcelona’s fourth goal soon came as Cruyff picked up the ball in his own half then looped a pass over the Real Madrid defence as Juan Carlos made a run from deep midfield unmarked. Real defenders never had a chance to catch him as he calmly chipped the ball over Remon.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper, despite letting in four goals, had still not given up as he pulled off a good save to deny Marcial’s shot from edge of the penalty box on 70th minute. Two minutes later the same player was brought down on edge of the penalty box as Cruyff stepped up to take the free-kick. None of the Real defenders made an attempt to mark Sotil as he headed in Barcelona’s fifth goal from point blank range. The humiliation was complete.
No more goals were scored in remaining minutes of the match but Barcelona came closest as Sotil’s header from Cryuff’s cross just flew over.
Before 1974 World Cup, the only exposure rest of Europe had to total football was the great Ajax side on early 70s. And no one had managed to find a tactical antidote for Total football in that period. Real Madrid had a number of talented players in their team but they were mostly static and didn’t have the dynamism of Barça players. Cryuff was the epitome of Barcelona’s movement as he often dropped back into his own half, won possession, then started a short burst of sprint to get past two or three players to get into Real penalty box. Sotil who started as a striker, drifted wider to play as an advanced winger, dragging out Benito multiple times and making way for Rexach or Cruyff to take advantage of the empty spaces. Real’s baffling tactic of leaving Cruyff unmarked eventually proved to be suicidal.
In the second half, Barcelona annihilated Real Madrid on the right flank. With Cruyff stringing passes from deep midfield, Rexach, Juan Carlos and Marcial made runs behind a rapidly tiring Real Madrid defence. Barca’s fourth goal was a prime example of this movement as Juan Carlos latched on to a pass from Cuyff before covering the Real Madrid half on his own. Barca’s fifth goal also came as a result of a similar movement. Rexach started as a winger but played as an anti-Sotil as the match progressed. The Peruvian drifted out wide but Rexach drifted inside from the right wing and often became the virtual center-forward along with Cruyff as Barca strikers dropped deeper. Rexach’s movement often took out his marker on the flanks as Marcial moved into this vacant space unmarked.
Barcelona didn’t mark any Real Madrid player except one – Günter Netzer. The West German was often double marked by Cruyff and Marcial in midfield and he was allowed very little time and space to find his team-mates. Netzer’s slip paved the way for Barcelona’s opening goal and he never really recovered from that mistake in this match. There also seemed to be a lack of team chemistry between rest of the players and Netzer as the latter’s passes were often misread by other Real players. 35 year old Zoco, who was supposed to provide protection to Netzer in midfield, was left clutching for thin air against Cruyff’s pace multiple times. With Netzer being neutralized completely Real Madrid posed very little threat for over an hour in this match, allowing Barca to play with complete freedom.
Man of the Match
The world was yet to see the spectacle of Franz Beckenbaur and Berti Vogts marking Johann Cruyff in 1974 World Cup final. When on song, it required a very, very special performance to stop Cruyff and this Real Madrid side didn’t have a defensive tactic to keep him in check. As a result the Dutchman trudged on the Bernabeu pitch at his free will, doing whatever he wanted with the ball. If one goes by just numbers he’ll see Cruyff had two assists and one goal, what he won’t see was his incredible work-rate.
In the initial minutes of the match Cruyff dived into tackles muliple times, often on Netzer to retrieve possession then start an attack on his own. He was clearly motivated beyond his usual levels for this match and if not for him Barça might not have notched up this impressive scoreline.
This win over Real Madrid was one in the series of 25 unbeaten games for Barcelona. After taking control of the top spot in week 12 they would not give it up till the season ended as they sealed their first title since ’59-’60 season. They would score a massive 75 goals on the way and win the title with a 10 point lead. Marcial Pina eventually finished as second highest scorer with 17 goals with Cruyff following him with 16 goals, his personal best in Spain.
The following season Barcelona would do well in European Champions Cup as well, reaching the semi-final. They scored 13 goals on their way to the last-4 and didn’t concede a single goal. However in the semi-final Don Revie’s Leeds United proved an obstacle too big as they were knocked out after a 3-2 aggregate loss. His performances in Barcelona would earn Cruyff back to back European footballer of the Year awards in 1973 and 74.
Real Madrid would have some measure of revenge in the Copa del Rey final, beating Barcelona, without World Cup bound Cruyff and Michel, 4-0. Their league season would end in ignominy as they finished a lowly eighth, 16 points behind Barcelona. Real would reach the quarter-finals of 1974-75 Cup Winners Cup but were edged out by Red Star Belgrade after a penalty shoot-out. Barcelona would not win another league title in 1970s but Real Madrid would bounce back to dominate the league and win five titles between 1974 and 1979.