The pre-match talk off the pitch was all about Julen Lopetegui and his future at Real Madrid, but on the pitch it was another example of Barcelona’s superiority over their main rivals for the LaLiga crown.
Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur (Arturo Vidal, 83'), Rafinha (Semedo, 68'), Coutinho (Dembélé, 73') y Luis Suárez
Courtois, Nacho, Varane (Lucas Vázquez, 45'), Sergio Ramos, Marcelo (Mariano, 81'), Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Bale (Asensio, 76') y Benzema
1-0, Coutinho (11'); 2-0, Luis Suárez, de penalti (29'); 2-1, Marcelo (49'); 3-1, Luis Suárez (74'); 4-1, Luis Suárez ((82'); 5-1, Arturo Vidal (86')
Sánchez Martínez (murciano). TA: Rakitic (37') / Nacho (38'), Bale (52')
Camp Nou, 93.265 espectadores
Barcelona controlled possession in the opening few minutes, as you’d expect, but perhaps Real Madrid were looking the more dangerous of the two sides. They threatened on the counterattack a couple of times but when Gareth Bale got down the left and squared it from Benzema, you expected him to at least test Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Instead he blazed it over the bar.
It didn’t take long for that miss to be punished. Philippe Coutinho finished off classic flowing move. Ivan Rakitic sent Jordi Alba away, in behind the outclassed Nacho Fernandez, and the left-back cut it back for the Brazilian to send the Camp Nou into raptures.
Lopetegui’s seat went from warm to hot as his side weren’t responding to whatever instructions he was giving them. “Learn how to defend,” perhaps. However those cries fell on deaf ears as the two biggest culprits when it comes to Madrid’s horror show at the back reared their heads in unison: VAR and Varane.
The French centre back, touted as a potential Ballon d’Or winner after his World Cup performances, continues to be a liability in a white shirt and clumsily brought down Luis Suarez in the box. The referee, naturally, decided to let VAR make the decision and a penalty was awarded. Suarez stepped up and made it 2-0.
Would there be a response from the Real Madrid players in order to save the manager they claim they're willing to defend to the end? No. It was Barcelona who remained in the ascendency and Rafinha, over-hitting a simple pass to Alba, and Suarez, opting to shoot rather than pass, were the only reasons the lead wasn’t extended before half-time.
Madrid brought on Lucas Vazquez to replace Varane, moving Nacho into the centre and to avoid further punishment from Alba and Coutinho. Lopetegui was at the point of going for broke if he wished to extend his stay at Madrid beyond this weekend.
And he got the response he wanted.
Isco managed to get in behind down the right hand side before crossing it into the penalty area. There’s an almighty scramble which ends up falling to Marcelo, who chests it past Pique and drills it through a mass of players and into the back of the net. Game on.
And now, despite such a commanding and dominant opening 45 minute display, it was Barca who were on the ropes. It could’ve been 2-2 within the opening ten minutes of the second half as Luka Modric ran onto a pass and his effort came back out off the post.
Rakitic then found Sergi Roberto behind Madrid’s defence with a wonderful pass, the right back cushioned it down for Suarez but his shot came back off the woodwork also.
The chances kept coming for both sides and it was Karim Benzema, unmarked and five yards out, who really should have brought the visitors level. Quite how he failed to get his header on target remains a mystery. It almost looked harder to miss.
Valverde brought on Semedo and Dembele for Rafinha and Coutinho respectively. The Brazilian, much like the team, hadn’t really got going in the second half and this was a chance for Dembele to reclaim his place in the starting XI.
The Frenchman had an impact immediately. He started to run at the Madrid defence and found Roberto out on the wing. Skipping inside, Roberto chipped it into Suarez who managed to generate incredible power to loop his header beyond the reach of Courtois. 3-1. That little bit of comfort was restored just as Madrid were pushing for an equaliser.
That goal took the wind out of Madrid’s sails. Sergio Ramos tried to bring down a long ball with his chest but didn’t notice Roberto lurking behind him. The Barca man stole it off his toes and sent Suarez through one-on-one. The Uruguayan, in inspired form, made no mistake and completed his hat-trick. 4-1.
If Madrid fans thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, how wrong they were. Dembele took over from Alba in tormenting Nacho and floated over a perfect cross for fellow substitute Arturo Vidal to head home and duly get off the mark for Barcelona. That was the exclamation mark on what turned out to be a pretty emphatic victory.
Has ‘El Pistolero’ shot down Lopetegui’s short Real Madrid career? Probably.