This is one el Clasico no one imagined will be a classic; for the first time since December 2007, neither Lionel Messi – who was already a regular feature at Barca at the time, but was nursing an injury as Bernd Schuster’s Real Madrid won 1-0 thanks to Julio Baptista – nor Cristiano Ronaldo featuring.
Our pregame animations showed Cristiano and Leo – they are the highest goal scorers for both clubs and both men equally lead the famous ‘highest goals scorer in the Clasico’ ranking too – both having a chat while, describing the game difficulty as ‘professional’, a line that is very familiar with gamers.
But on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t professional, wasn’t vintage either, it was beginner level; a one-way traffic in the first half in which Raphael Varane continued where he left off – giving away another clumsy penalty, Lopetegui left Alvaro Odriozola on the bench again, preferring Nacho at right-back and Barca raced to a 2-0 lead through Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez. Real Madrid came out gun blazing in the second half, dominated for 25 minutes, scored a goal and hit the woodwork and then lost numerous opportunities to go 2-4 up, and then lightning struck. Luis got Barca’s decisive third, a thumping header from around the penalty spot.
Real Madrid’s problem this season is not creativity; it is converting chances. Going into the El Clasico, they had managed 90 shots on target in 10 La Liga games, scoring from a miserly 20; Saturday afternoon was merely an extension of the stat.
Who would have thought Barca will be so dominant without Lionel Messi? In his stead, Sergio Roberto had another classic game to remember, leading Barcelona’s attack from the middle doing the thing Lopetegui would have expected Isco to do: drive the team forward.
Barca scored five goals, the third time in nine years they have scored four or more goals in a Clasico – Sergio Ramos was involved and very culpable in all three – but this one was the easiest. Barca didn’t need to raise their game to El Clasico level; they had to be on autopilot. Before the game, Luis Suarez had scored 6 goals in 10 Clasico. At the head he scored his 7, 8 and 9 in eleven games, a remarkable hattrick, becoming the eleventh Barca player to score a Clasico hattrick – Messi already did, twice.
In the end, Casemiro was right, “this defeat sums up Real Madrid’s season, a disaster”, he declared.
And so is Isco, Julen Lopetegui shouldn’t be thrown out alone, “all the players should be thrown out as well.”
Sad story in Leicester
Leicester City’s owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, died in the helicopter crash outside the club’s stadium on Saturday, although it wasn’t confirmed until Sunday night by the club, it was improbable anyone would have survived the crash even as the world waited eagerly to hear cheering news.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is a loved an accomplished man, known for his philanthropic acts back in Thailand and extending such characteristics to Leicester.
In 2012, his last name, Srivaddhanaprabha, which means “light of progressive glory” was bestowed on him, by the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Vichai, who acquired Leicester in 2010 for $50m, had overseen the most memorable period in the history of the club, winning the English Premier League a season after battling relegation, with the odds against them at 5000-1.
Vichai had that sort of effect on people and his close relationship with a number of the Leicester players –Jamie Vardy even invited him to his wedding – made him more than a football club owner to them. Not just the players, the fans enjoy him too; Vichai would regularly buy a meal for every fan who is at the game on the week of his birthday and at one time, he even invited some club faithful to dinner with him.
His generosity will be talked about for a long time and beyond football, people who have a personal relationship with him attest that the world has lost a gem.
Thomas Tuchel shows who is in charge at PSG
One trait that ruined Unai Emery’s time at PSG was his inability to make difficult decisions, and when he is forced to do it, it either produces the sort of attention you don’t want or it fails altogether. But not with Thomas Tuchel, a clearly less successful coach who was seeking redemption having failed to make an impact at Borrusia Dortmund.
After watching his PSG side snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat against Napoli in midweek, he threw a dog at Atletico and Italian teams, urging the Parisian side to attack more. Attack more? At the time, PSG had scored 47 goals in 13 games and had shipped in 11; of course, they were attacking teams already. But Tuchel isn’t convinced, so he dropped Edison Cavani and Kylian Mbappe against Marseille, one of the toughest games they will play this season, to prove a point.
Against Marseille on Sunday, a team PSG had not lost to in over 10 league games, they scored two. Kylian Mbappe getting the message from the boss clearly, scored one and created another. Lesson learned.
PSG have now won their first 11 games in Ligue 1 this season, equaling the best ever start for a team in Europe’s top 5 leagues since Tottenham in 1960/61 – incredibly it is the last time Spurs have won the league.
Napoli fall behind in title chase
Having lost a lead in the final minutes in midweek at Paris, Napoli themselves snatched a draw off Roma who was almost sure to run away with a win at San Paolo.
For Roma, seeking their first win against a top side this season, it is a painful draw and worse still it keeps them way off the pace in the battle for top four which has gotten more competitive.
Napoli, however, will see this as devastating to their title aspirations having already lost to Juventus and seeing the ‘Old Lady’ grab another Cristiano Ronaldo inspired win on Saturday, 6 points separate them with 28 games left.
Manchester United slowly crawl out of the turmoil
Manchester United haven’t dazzled, but make no mistake about it, they haven’t lost in three league games either. Usually, wins against Newcastle United and Everton may have been expected, but there hasn’t been that air of belief in recent games.
Since the embarrassing cup exit to Frank Lampard’s Derby County was followed by a rather shocking defeat at West Ham, United have been almost flawless in the league and nearly left Stamford Bridge with what would have been a famous victory – the incredible league run has only been punctured by a couple of dismissive performances in the champions league.
Manchester United may not be tearing teams to shreds just yet, but the way they are grinding out results, coupled with Anthony Martial’s form and consistency – a word that hasn’t been attributed to him since Jose Mourinho took charge – the Red Devils will crawl out of this sooner.