“I have fond memories of the Bernabéu,” Xavi Hernández had already stated, and now he had added another to his collection. He described it as “historic,” and it may have provided him with even more delight than all of his other nights as a player. With an incredible 4-0 triumph over their fiercest enemies, his first visit as Barcelona’s coach, the man entrusted with their resurrection, saw a record of five consecutive clásico defeats put to an end. He was an ideology who was devoted to his football beliefs, but it wasn’t intended to be this excellent this quickly.
The score was completed by two goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and one goal apiece from Ronald Arajo and Ferran Torres. If Xavi had nice memories of clásicos in which Barcelona “played fantastic football and won, where we felt superior to them,” this was the same, implying a sea change for his team. It’s too late for this season – and that may have played a role – but maybe not for next year and beyond.
“We’ve returned!” Gerard Piqué stated it after the game, and Barcelona’s performance shows he wasn’t far off. The competition, to the extent that there was one, was ended before the hour. The stadium was practically quiet when they went off at halftime, maybe even before the break. Apart from the 300 or so Barcelona fans who had been serenading Xavi and engaging in “olés” in the upper north-east corner for a while.
What little noise there was came primarily in the form of whistles from Madrid fans as they watched their team crumble. Barcelona had already taken a 2-0 lead and were in total command. Arajo had been inserted as a method of defence against the threat of Vincius Jr, and had been put to the test when the Brazilian set up Fede Valverde for the opening goal of the night after four minutes, but instead headed in the second.
If Vincius’ early run served as a warning, it was only for a brief period, as an even greater chance and save awaited at the opposite end when Aubameyang was stopped by Thibaut Courtois inside the six-yard box, followed by Courtois’s deny of Ousmane Dembélé. Every week, Madrid’s goalkeeper has at least one outstanding performance; this week, there were even more. This might have been six or seven if it hadn’t been for him and a succession of misses, which the Barcelona bench bemoaned.
Madrid had more grievances. Luka Modric was used nearly as a false nine behind Vincius and Rodrygo due to the unavailability of Karim Benzema. Carlo Ancelotti’s approach, if it was intended to offer them more control, failed miserably. If his switch to three centre defenders at the start of the second half was designed to provide security, it would be an even worse blunder.
Torres had blasted a shot just past the post before Pedri’s superb movement and a scooped ball gifted the former City attacker a second opportunity, which Casemiro dove to block. Then, shortly before halftime, Aubameyang broke through, heading home Dembélé’s brilliant cross for his sixth league goal since signing from Arsenal.
When they unexpectedly broke, there was a fleeting reminder of Madrid’s threat, only for Vincius to tumble down in front of Marc-André ter Stegen, and Barcelona’s hold did not relax. When Arajo scored the second goal by leaping between David Alaba and Éder Milito, it felt like the game was already finished, and it was.
Ancelotti made adjustments, but they didn’t help; in fact, only 30 seconds into the second half, Torres was left one-on-one with Courtois. He curled that shot over the post, but Barcelona swiftly grabbed another, splitting Madrid open again and again. Frenkie de Jong and Dembélé combined, Aubameyang heeded the call and gave a fantastic flick, and Torres almost replicated his two-minute-old finish. This one was the only one who went inside the post.
It was done five minutes later, Aubameyang clean through and lifting the ball coolly, delicately over the goalie and into the net. After being first disallowed due to offside, a protracted wait for the VAR resulted in Barcelona’s fourth goal, sending substitutes and staff racing on in joy and spectators headed for the exit, desperate to get home.
A manita — a little hand with one goal for each finger – might have followed quickly, as could a hat-trick when Aubameyang somehow guided Jordi Alba’s ball wide from close range. It might have also arrived when Courtois pushed Torres away, Dembélé struck wide from six yards, and Memphis Depay was thwarted by the goalkeeper. Four would suffice: it’s a start, with Xavi the coach asking a new generation to experience what he did here.