Barcelona continued their unbeaten run on Saturday as they cruised to a 3-0 win over Real Madrid in El Clasico at Santiago Bernabeu.
It was Zinedine Zidane’s men who looked the likeliest side to break the deadlock, having dominated the first half quite heavily. Cristiano Ronaldo had the biggest of chances coming his way, just 11 minutes into the game as Toni Kroos’ cut-back rolled towards him, and then under him, as he made a hash of it.
Karim Benzema and Paulinho had two big openings coming their way too, but were denied by the post and Keylor Navas respectively. But, a switch seemed to be turned on post the break as Barcelona took the game by the scruff of its neck.
The visitors first broke the deadlock in the 54th minute through Luis Suarez, who had an open net to aim at after Sergi Roberto squared the ball his way. Things went from bad to worse for Los Blancos just eight minutes later as a chaotic sequence ended with Dani Carvajal being sent off for handling the ball inside his own box.
Lionel Messi took the resulting penalty, making no mistake to convert from the spot, with Navas reacting late. Real Madrid did have a few more chances, albeit unsuccessfully so. But, it was Barcelona who had the final say, rounding off the result when Aleix Vidal fired home from Lionel Messi’s cut-back deep into injury time.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 23, 2017
The result saw Barcelona stretch their lead at the top of the table to nine points, with Real Madrid a further five points away in fourth, with a game in hand. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 8/10
Much in expected lines, ter Stegen was much busier on Saturday than just about every previous outing. By the end of the match, the German had made five saves to keep an important clean sheet, with the most notable saves coming against Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
He was beaten just once all afternoon, and the post came to his rescue to help preserve the shut out. In addition to it all, his distribution was on point as well, releasing a lot of pressure that Real Madrid tried heaping on Barcelona with their pressing.
Sergi Roberto: 7/10
Roberto had a tough time in the first half, having his hands full with Toni Kroos, Marcelo and the free-moving Cristiano Ronaldo. But, with Barcelona dominating the proceedings in the second half, the Spaniard slowly found himself growing into the game.
Linking up well with Ivan Rakitic, Roberto provided the assist for Suarez’s goal, and became extremely efficient with his runs down the right flank subsequently. He also got a few minutes playing in his preferred midfield role before he was subbed off late into the match.
Gerard Pique: 9/10
It was, without doubt, Barcelona’s biggest game of the season, despite the fact that they were a long way ahead of Real Madrid. Recognising that, Pique found a way to put the inconsistencies behind him and produce his best performance of the campaign – and one of the standout central defensive performances of the season.
Gerard Pique vs Real Madrid.
Keeps getting better and better game after game, and yesterday wasn’t an exception with a defensive masterclass from him. Easily the MOTM for me. pic.twitter.com/k3fbJyhmI4
— fabiano™ (@XaviTempo) December 24, 2017
The Spain international made a mammoth seven blocks, in addition to two clearances, and was a colossal figure at the heart of defence, even covering up for Sergi Roberto, at times. It was largely due to him that Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema cut such frustrated figures on the day.
Thomas Vermaelen: 8/10
Pique’s partner at the heart of the Barcelona defence wasn’t too shabby either. Making his first ever El Clasico appearance, Vermaelen was dominant in the air while also being diligent while dealing with the threat of Benzema and Ronaldo. And while he was booked, he took one for the team to keep the game all square in the first half.
Jordi Alba: 8/10
Alba had more defending to do than he would have ideally liked in the first half, with Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal spending the most part in the Barcelona half. But, he stuck to his guns and opened up when his side took charge of the game after the break.
The Spaniard’s link up with Andres Iniesta, in particular, was delightful, while his impeccable understanding with Lionel Messi was starkly visible. Had a really easy time at the back once Carvajal was sent off.
Ivan Rakitic: 7/10
The ever improving Rakitic was a factor once again for Barcelona. Sloppy and wasteful every once in a while, the Croat was largely reliable with his strong runs and smart defensive work. His superb run was a major reason why Barcelona grabbed the lead.
Barcelona exploited Madrid’s lack of a proper structure in midfield when Casemiro vacated his position at the base. Kovacic, as stated earlier, was caught in two minds when Rakitic came at him due to Messi’s presence. Solely blaming Kova is foolish however. Great run from Rakitic pic.twitter.com/eHWmPSyliV
— Football Bloody Hell (@fbhfootball) December 23, 2017
A passing accuracy of 93.4 per cent – the highest by any player on the day – was another contributing factor to Barcelona’s domination in the second half. What a time to scale his way back to form.
Sergio Busquets: 7/10
Busquets initially had a hard time, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos pressing hard to get the ball back. But, he became comfortable as the minutes passed by, and it was some brilliant work by him that sent Rakitic into acres of space to set up Luis Suarez’s goal. He also made more passes (85) and won more tackles (four) than any of his teammates.
The Brazilian’s growth as an asset to Valverde continued on Saturday. Paulinho was the brightest Barcelona player in the first half, and continued to be one of the biggest goal threats, with four shots on target, one of which was saved acrobatically by Dani Carvajal. His power gives the La Liga leaders quite the edge.
Andres Iniesta: 8/10
Iniesta rolled back the years in a masterful performance on Saturday. Unsurprisingly the biggest creative force for Barcelona, setting up numerous chances for his teammates. During a tough first half, he also put a shift in at the back. Valverde must continue to preserve his captain to extract such performances from him.
Lionel Messi: 8/10
LIONEL MESSI. pic.twitter.com/sDP9lEFDqr
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) December 23, 2017
The Barcelona talisman took time getting into complete stride, but once he did, there was very little stopping him. Mateo Kovacic marked him out of the game in the first half. But, the genius that is Messi found a way to work around that too, dragging Kovacic so far out that Rakitic had a free run at an exposed Real Madrid defence.
He then scored from the spot to score his 15th goal at the Bernabeu, on his 19th visit to the hallowed ground. The Argentine wizard had one final say in the match, showing a lot of desire to keep the ball in play before setting up the goal for Aleix Vidal, and overshadowing his great rival by some margin.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
Suarez was a passenger for the most part in the first half with Real Madrid dominating the game. But, he continued his goalscoring spree after the break, finding the back of the net for the seventh time in his last six league games.
He could have had a lot more than just the one goal though, if not for his profligacy, with his hit on the post when he had an open goal to aim at a major forgettable moment that didn’t come back to haunt him after Messi scored from the spot.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 24, 2017
Nelson Semedo: 6/10
On for a tiring Iniesta, Semedo enabled Roberto to play in midfield for the last few minutes. The defender looked lively on the right side of the defence and even got close to scoring a goal himself before Keylor Navas deflected the ball for a corner.
Andre Gomes: 5/10
Gomes had very little time to make an impression, and even then he disappointed. The struggling Portuguese midfielder had one fantastic opportunity to get his name on the score sheet as well, with just Navas between him and the goal, but he sent the shot blazing over.
Aleix Vidal: 6/10
Vidal came on in the dying stages of the match and got in on the act, leaving a lasting mark on the Clasico with his injury time strike.