Barça go knocking on wrong doors after clásico defeat that was too easy | Sid Lowe
When at last it was all over, Joan Laporta stood up, shook hands with Florentino Pérez and slipped out. For the second time in five days Barcelona’s president had sat front row centre watching things fall apart. He had listened to the Real Madrid supporters he had been so looking forward to seeing again launch into olés, laugh their way through ironic pleas for his coach to stay and invite him to enjoy Thursday nights in the Europa League, and now it was time to leave. He went down the stairs, past the statue of Sotero Aranguren and Alberto Machimbarrena cast in bronze and to the referee’s dressing room. There, according to José María Sánchez Martínez’s report, he “repeatedly asked for an explanation”.
He had come to the wrong place.
There was a moment late-ish in the clásico, about the time it felt like Madrid were just waiting for it to end and Barcelona no longer were – Gavi, Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres on and leading a rebellion – that Robert Lewandowski went tumbling in the area. But while that might have mattered and matches have turned on less, there were many reasons for things going the way they did – not just on Sunday when Madrid beat them 3-1 but beyond it too – and they weren’t to be found in the referee’s room. Nor even 25km west in Las Rozas, where more officials sit in their kit watching replays. There were at least two other doors to knock on first.
At the start of the game, Xavi Hernández had told his players to enjoy it; by the end, they had fallen silent and it was Carlo Ancelotti’s players who did, music on the stereo, Antonio Rüdiger on the dance floor. There had been times when they had enjoyed it on the pitch too, maybe even a little too much. Look at the stats and this was one match; look at, well, the actual match and it was another. In the end it felt a little like it hadn’t been a match at all, the kind of clásico that might have drawn conflicting conclusions but instead brought a consensus. Barcelona, everyone seemed to agree, aren’t all that good.
Barcelona had 56.6% of possession, 18 shots to eight, and more on target too. They had more expected goals and that penalty appeal. Lewandowski missed the kind of chance he just doesn’t, the ball flying over from a yard, and it took a last-minute penalty for Madrid to actually end it. “We didn’t deserve to lose,” Xavi said afterwards, and yet if all that makes it sound close, like maybe he was right, although there were times when you could press pause and draw a big circle round specific errors that sunk them, and much as emotions deceive and betray, it just didn’t feel that way at all. Quiet for a fair bit of the game, it didn’t feel all that much like a clásico. The hate figures – Xavi, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba – were all on the bench, not the pitch, which might have been part of the reason it lacked edge but the explanation was probably simpler: it was a bit too comfortable for that.
Briefly, at least. Ultimately, Madrid got a third and although it had become close, they had been every bit as good as they had to be, a team that always seems to know what’s needed, a kind of humility and solidarity to go with the talent, a maturity and variety. “Having just one style is not the best idea,” Ancelotti said.
If there was only really one run free from Vinícius, it was enough. Aurélien Tchouaméni saw everything earlier than anyone else. Benzema scored again. Eder Militão fought Lewandowski, and mostly won. Rodrygo was decisive again. Defying time, dictating it too, Kroos and Luka Modric were superb in the midfield and Fede Valverde was brilliant in whatever his position is, which is all of them, the man who has four lungs scoring his fifth of the season to leave Kroos placing him in the best three players on the planet. Madrid’s position meanwhile, is top again, celebrating at the end of a clásico that left Laporta knocking on the wrong door for an explanation, turning to the referee’s room when he could have carried on down the passageway to the one the music was coming from or looked a little closer to home.