The Camp Nou faithful unveiled their carpet before the El Clasico that read “We Colour Football”. On the day, FC Barcelona exemplified what it meant. They played the beautiful football, that the club stresses upon.
They brought back memories of the golden generation of Pep Guardiola's team. The team played on one wavelength. Each player knew what the next sequence of passes was going to be. Arthur and Rakitic recreated the magic that Xavi and Iniesta created so effortlessly. They outclassed the Madrid midfield duo of Modric and Kroos.
Pique and Lenglet were solid at the back just like the good old days when Puyol stood guard. The front three, even though without Lionel Messi, was irresistible. FC Barcelona had the game sealed the moment Suarez headed the third goal in. But they were merciless in their approach and humiliated Madrid by scoring five past them.
Madrid were beaten mentally. Lopetegui left the pitch after the 4th goal itself, Sergio Ramos was seen crying out of devastation. The protagonist for Barcelona and the antagonist for Real Madrid turned out to be Luis Suarez. He was at his absolute best, showed good dribble and pace and managed to score three past, Thibaut Courtois.
Suarez’s performance was a standout in Leo Messi’s absence. On that note, let us relive some of the brilliant individual performances in the El Clasico. Coincidentally, all of them occurred at Santiago Bernabeu.
Back in the 2005/06 season, Barcelona visited the hostile atmosphere of Santiago Bernabeu as league Champions. The Bernabeu was all set for the biggest showdown in Spain with their star-studded squad consisting of Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Raul.
Barcelona was looking for a win that would solidify their status as Champions. They got it in a match they would have loved it the most. Led by Eto’o, a then young kid called Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, Barcelona were coming into the Clasico as strong favourites.
The majestic smiling Brazilian was all smiles before the encounter. He smiled and laughed, along with his Brazilian teammates wearing the whites. Once the starting whistle blew, Ronaldinho’s smile turned into absolute footballing perfection.
Ronaldinho caused all the problems that he could from the left wing. He was uncatchable, no matter how hard anyone tried. He schooled with the defence of Roberto Carlos, Helguera and Ramos. Poor Sergio Ramos was a victim of the Brazilian maestro twice.
During the first goal, Ronaldinho accelerated through the left wing and moved past Ramos’ sliding challenge with ease. He moved into the box and circled past Helguera and Carlos, before finishing past the hapless Casillas.
Ronaldinho almost had an identical second goal, the difference being that this time his pace was too good for anyone to catch-up with. Ramos was the only one who even tried to stop Ronaldinho but he was humiliated yet again, failing to bring the Brazilian down, even after attempting to pull him down by the shirt.
The Real Madrid Ultras applauded the efforts of Ronaldinho, thus putting football over any rivalry. It was also a dagger to their own players for their poor showing against the arch-rivals.
#3 Xavi Hernandez
The puppet master, the best controlling midfielder the world has ever seen, Xavi had his fair share of moments in the Clasico. From being involved in a banter with Sergio Ramos to finishing beautifully past Iker Casillas, for the first goal in the 5-0 win, Xavi saw it all.
The most memorable El Clasico involving the Spaniard has to be the 6-2 win against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu. Xavi created four opportunities that led to a goal, four. The first one was the pinpoint cross towards the head of his captain Carles Puyol.
The second one was when he gave a lesson in ball retention to the Madrid players. He pinched the ball from under the nose of Lass Diarra that let Lionel Messi run free into the open space ahead and finish. Afterwards, he broke apart the defence and midfield of the Madrid outfit, with one neat through ball, that found its way towards Thierry Henry who scored past Casillas.
Xavi’s fourth assist was a perfect classic Xavi play. He had the ball right in front of the box but he was under immense pressure from Cannavaro and Gago. Xavi completed his trademark 360° turn before sensing Messi’s movement inside the box. Xavi passed the ball to Messi without even bothering to look, as Real Madrid was caught off guard again.
The assists were just the icing on the cake. The midfield performance from Xavi, coming under high press but still keeping the ball away like a master, dribbling, passing, even shooting, it was a complete performance.
The Bernabeu had to witness a long 90 minutes and Xavi made the Madrid fans crave for the final whistle.
#2 Andres Iniesta
In November 2015, FC Barcelona visited the Santiago Bernabeu for the El Clasico, without Lionel Messi. Messi was ruled out of the match with a hamstring injury. Barcelona came into the match as second favourites to Real Madrid. But what followed, was another one-sided Clasico, in favour of Barcelona.
The star man this time was none other than the Artist, Andres Iniesta. With the captain’s armband across his sleeves, without his midfield partner Xavi Hernandez, without Lionel Messi, Iniesta stepped up to the occasion.
Iniesta started with sleek passing in the midfield. Backwards, forward, sideward his passes had the perfect weight on them. He outclassed both Kroos and Modric in the midfield, with both of them having no idea of his next move.
Under Modric’s watchful eye, Iniesta lobbed a ball towards Sergi in a split second but Barca couldn't capitalise. Iniesta did one better, however. This time much closer to the box, with Kroos, Modric and Varane in front, he picked out Neymar with a picture-perfect pass, in the nick of time that Ramos played him onside. Neymar finished doubling Barcelona’s advantage.
Early in the second half, the magician cast his charm on the Bernabeu. One pass towards Neymar which was beautifully backheeled by the Brazilian came right back to Iniesta. With enough time and space ahead, the Spaniard slammed the ball in the back of the net and went off sucking his thumb. Ramos and Marcelo could only dive while Iniesta’s shot found its way into the net.
When Iniesta left the pitch in the 76th minute, passing the armband to Lionel Messi, the Bernabeu stood up. A thunderous sound echoed in the stadium as the fans applauded the sheer artistic brilliance from the Mozart of Albacete.
#1 Lionel Messi
Messi is one of those players who has a countless number of individual brilliance in the Clasico. He put on a masterclass in Barcelona’s 4-3 win at Bernabeu, he put on another masterclass in the Champions League semifinals in 2011 and another one in the 3-0 victory last year.
However, we are going back in time to when Barcelona visited the Bernabeu at their weakest. Barcelona already suffered a 3-0 loss against Juventus away from home, in the quarterfinals of Champions League. They were struggling to keep up with Madrid in the league and all of a sudden their next fixture was El Clasico.
Barcelona’s front three would miss Neymar due to suspension and had to be completed by Paco. Lionel Messi had all the burden on him, with Suarez completely off colour. Messi came in guns blazing, dribbling his merry way past the Madrid midfield and being challenged continuously by Modric and Casemiro.
However, Barca’s hearts broke when they saw Lionel Messi on the ground, with blood coming out from his nose and mouth. He was caught by an unintentional elbow from Marcelo. He came back on the pitch with a tissue in his mouth.
Trailing by a goal, Messi passed to Busquets and moved towards the box. He got the pass from Rakitic and he followed it up with a brilliant solo effort. He went past Modric in a jiffy and turned away from the Carvajal’s attempted tackle with a brilliant body swivel. Nacho could only stand and watch Lionel score goal #499 for Barcelona.
Messi had a chance to hit his 500th goal thanks to a miscue from Madrid but he missed the pass into the open net, off Rakitic’s corner. Messi had a chance to run into the open field in the counter-attack but he was brought to rest by a reckless Ramos challenge. Messi attempted shots at Navas but he was too good to be beaten on the night.
Barcelona left it late till the 92nd minute to hit a counter-attack in search of the winning goal. Sergi Roberto started the counter from right back spot and picked out Andre Gomes. Gomes passed to Alba on the overlap who slid the ball into the box. Messi popped into the box out of nowhere and catapulted the ball past the brilliant Keylor Navas.
He took his shirt off and held it high to the Real Madrid fans to celebrate his 500th goal. Messi let the Madrid fans know who at their very home. A black eye, missing teeth perhaps and a mouthful of blood, Lionel Messi decided the outcome of the El Clasico on his own.
Rob Palmer reduced the little man as “The best there is, the best that ever has been and probably the best that ever will be”. According to Jerry Armstrong, it was “ Yet another story in the incredible chapter of the little man”.