Real Madrid fell a massive 14 points behind Barcelona on the La Liga table as the league leaders cruised to a 3-0 win at Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.
The hosts were the stronger of the two sides upon kick-off, dominating 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, only for him to make a hash of it as it subsequently rolled underneath him.
Karim Benzema, too, came close, but his header could only deflect off the post even with Marc-Andre ter Stegen well beaten. On the other end, Paulinho had a fantastic opening, before being denied by Keylor Navas. But, Barcelona came out after half-time all guns blazing.
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 the hosts just eight minutes later as a chaotic sequence ended with Dani Carvajal being sent off for handling the ball inside his own box.
— Real Madrid C.F.🇬🇧 (@realmadriden) December 23, 2017
Lionel Messi converted the resulting penalty with a powerful shot, 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 scored from Lionel Messi’s cut-back deep into injury time.
The result saw Barcelona stretch their lead at the top of the table to nine points, with Real Madrid now 14 points adrift of their bitter rivals, with a game in hand. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Zinedine Zidane’s men.
Keylor Navas: 6.5/10
Perhaps the only Real Madrid player who could hold his head high, if only just. Navas was called into action a number of times on Saturday, with his acrobatic save from Paulinho’s shot in the first half a standout. Another from the Brazilian’s glancing header was special too, keeping his side in the game, but to no avail.
There was very little he could have done to stop Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s goals, although the match ended in embarrassing fashion for him, when he let Aleix Vidal’s shot squirm under his body. The final moment wouldn’t have done him any favours, with talks of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s possible move getting stronger.
Dani Carvajal: 3/10
What a weird season this has been for Carvajal. Regarded by many as the best right-back in the world, he has done very little to justify that, with health issues and now, suspensions keeping him out of action.
— AquibHasmi Saiyed (@HasmiAquib) December 23, 2017
The Spain international had only just returned from a one-match ban, and he got another on Saturday as he denied Paulinho by doing Keylor Navas’ job, before Messi converted from the spot. Even before his dismissal, the player had done precious little, despite spending much of the first half in the opposition half.
Raphael Varane: 6/10
Making his return to a league lineup after another injury, Varane was quite solid for the most part. The Frenchman successfully kept Luis Suarez quiet in the first half, but petered out in the second half as his side lost the plot. He must remain fit now for Real Madrid to at least contest on other fronts.
Sergio Ramos: 5/10
How often has it been the case this season, especially in the league, that Ramos has looked everything but the Real Madrid captain. Saturday was another such game when petulance shone through, rather than the requisite leadership.
The Spaniard was really lucky to escape with just a booking for a wild swing at Luis Suarez’s face in the second half, and was nowhere to be seen when the Uruguayan scored for his side. He also lost track of Paulinho often, whose runs had him caught unaware. A day to forget.
Marcelo was really influential in the first half as Real Madrid asserted their authority. The Brazilian had more touches than any of his teammates, and sent many a dangerous crosses into the six-yard box, but none of his teammates could get that final touch to get the elusive goal.
Marcelo: “We played well in the first half and had our chances, but in the second half it was a different story. We’ve lost the game, it’s a sorry afternoon but we’ve got to keep going. It’ll be tough for us to win LaLiga with the points gap, but Real Madrid never give up.” pic.twitter.com/u7fcTtnAqD
— Real Madrid Info (@RMadridInfo) December 23, 2017
The defender then fizzled out dramatically in the second half, leaving Sergi Roberto unmarked and open to provide a simple assist to Suarez. Another blow hot, blow cold outing, and the frequency is getting all too excruciating.
Luka Modric: 5/10
Speaking of blow hot, blow cold, it was a game of two halves for Modric. Zidane needed his creative powerhouse to be at his best on the day, but he did very little to influence the game, petering out considerably once Sergio Busquets found his feet.
Mateo Kovacic: 6/10
Kovacic was given one job – mark Messi out of the game to kill his influence. The Croat did that with aplomb for the most part, but that also saw him leave a lot of space open after Casemiro was caught way out of position for Suarez’s goal.
Absolutely shambolic from the Brazilian midfielder, who saw his underwhelming campaign continue on Saturday. Charged with tracking Paulinho, he was nowhere to be seen whenever his compatriot made his trademark runs.
Casemiro was then caught woefully out of position for Casemiro’s goal and was rightly taken off midway through the second half, having made just one interception in his outing.
Toni Kroos: 5/10
A highly disappointing outing by the German, who hasn’t been at his best at times this season. On Saturday, Kroos completed just 83 per cent of his passes, and his cut-back to Ronaldo in the 11th minute was his only notable contribution in the final third. Well away from his best.
Karim Benzema: 4/10
6 – Karim Benzema has hit the woodwork more than times (6) than he has scored (5) in all competitions this season. Unlucky. pic.twitter.com/8mvmkcKhSD
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 23, 2017
The struggles seem to be back for Benzema after a brief run of positive performances earlier this month. On Saturday, he did have one fine moment, when he headed the ball against the post. But, that was just about it for the French striker, who was largely anonymous otherwise.
He also had the fewest touches among players who started, fewer than even the two goalkeepers. With such few touches, Benzema really needs to start being more clinical, lest he risks losing his place, eventually.
Cristiano Ronaldo: 5/10
A Clasico to forget for Ronaldo. A lot of the pre-match talk centred around Real Madrid, and Ronaldo getting a guard of honour from Messi & co. But, by the time the referee blew his whistle for full-time, the Portuguese superstar’s great rival had heavily overshadowed him.
Ronaldo did try his heart out, running all across the park and even putting a shift defensively. But, his horrendous miss in the early stages perfectly captured just how poor an outing it was for him. He can now only attempt to start 2018 on a positive note, and move on from the disappointment of Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s game by numbers vs. Barcelona:
1 chance created
1 take-on attempted
0 take-ons completed
Not a good day at the office. pic.twitter.com/aZTFFc9dBP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 23, 2017
An unlikely substitute entrant, thrust into action following Carvajal’s dismissal. Nacho helped shore up the right side of defence for Real Madrid, with very little happening on his end as a result.
Gareth Bale: 6/10
What an unmemorable way to make a return to league action for Bale. The Welshman only had 15 minutes to affect the proceedings and a 20-yard effort was as good as it got for him.