After a break for international competition, the European football leagues resumed play on Saturday. Probably the most anticipated match was in Spain, where Barcelona traveled to the Bernabeu against rival Real Madrid. Few matches elicit raw emotions quite like this one, and this game was no exception.
With over 80,000 Real fans in attendance and a healthy lineup, Barcelona was seen as the underdog on virtually every betting site. After all, Barca had several key players out with injuries, and while Lionel Messi returned to the team as an available substitute, it was clear that nothing less than a solidly executed game plan would earn them three points.
Yet by the time Messi entered the match in the 57th minute, Barca had built a 3-0 lead, with the final score 4-0. The statistics favored the victors as well, with Los Blancos having the advantage in only fouls committed and cards received. They were uncharacteristically outshot 17-13, while ramping up their offensive weaponry in the second half of play.
With the match now in the books, let’s take a look at the winners and losers.
Luis Suarez- Originally acquired as insurance in the event m Messi would become injured, Suarez has been a major factor in Barca creating a six point lead in the La Liga table. Suarez netted two goals today on four shots taken and created chances for himself and others on offense. Along with Neymar, they exposed the back line of Real while keeping possession on offense.
Andres Iniesta– As is usually the case, Iniesta ignited the offensive prowess of Barcelona. While only being credited with one assist, his offensive midfield play cannot be over-emphasized. Aside from being instrumental in controlling the tempo of the game, he also had a cracker of a goal from 16 yards out and was the man of the match.
The Real Madrid fans- With their team being totally outplayed and exhibiting what might be seen as a lackluster level of effort, the fans waved white handkerchiefs in reference to the home team’s play. What showed a real touch of class, however, occurred in the 77th minute, when Iniesta was substituted from the match. The Real Madrid faithful got to their feet and applauded an outstanding effort by the opposing team. While a long-time fixture of the Spanish national team, it was heartwarming to see an opposing player’s efforts acknowledged by the hometown fans.
Rafael Benitez– It is widely known in football circles that nothing short of championships and silverware allow a Real Madrid manager to maintain their managerial position with Los Blancos. After all, the managers are given players who are among the best in the world, with a price tag to match.
In order to support this top shelf team financially, Real must win both in La Liga and on the world stage such as the Champions League. With Real Madrid trailing an ailing Barcelona by six points at this point in the table, some analysts and supporter groups are already banging the drum for the sacking of Benitez. While currently in the second spot in the La Liga table, only a top spot will satisfy the Real supporters and management, and no one would be surprised if Benitez were to be replaced during the winter break.
Cristiano Ronaldo– Having arrived in Madrid in 2009 for a then-record $85 million, there was a day when he would take over a game like this early, and ultimately win the game for Los Blancos. While still among the best players in the world, Ronaldo seemed overwhelmed on the pitch today. As the match progressed, he was seen sulking as his interest in the game seemed to wane.
Ronaldo will be 31 in February, and it seems that his best days may be behind him. It is rumored that Real Madrid has been marketing Ronaldo for sale as the transfer window approaches, and Manchester United reportedly has interest in his services. While his future might be uncertain, Ronaldo’s level of play against Barcelona only added fuel to the fire regarding possible departure.
Gareth Bale– Arriving at Madrid in 2013 for a transfer fee of roughly $105 million, Bale has yet to demonstrate anything close to that valuation. The trade was certainly lucrative for Tottenham Hotspur, who initially paid roughly $13 million for the Welshman just two years earlier. Since his inaugural season with Los Blancos, his level of play has diminished. In the current campaign, Bale has scored just two goals in the first 12 games, and he proved ineffective against Barcelona’s defense, producing one shot on goal in the match. At the age of 26, it has been rumored that Manchester United and other EPL teams would covet his services. Expect Bale to be on the block when the transfer window opens.