Five things we learned, or had confirmed, in Monday’s “Clasico”
1. Lionel Messi is a more effective “big game player” than Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese may be the world’s most expensive player but Argentina forward Messi has got the better of the man whom he succeeded as World Player of the Year on their last four meetings.
Starting with the 2009 Champions League final in Rome, when Messi scored Barca’s second in a 2-0 success, and continuing through the last three La Liga “Clasicos”, the 23-year-old from Santa Fe has produced the goods when it counted.
Although he did not score himself on Monday at the Nou Camp, his two assists for David Villa early in the second half made it 4-0 to the hosts and effectively killed off the game.
Madeira-born Ronaldo, 25, was largely anonymous after the break and made a poor impression with a needless shove on Barca coach Pep Guardiola that sparked a brief pitchside fracas and earned him a yellow card.
2. It may take longer than we thought for Jose Mourinho to mould Real’s expensively-assembled squad into an effective team capable of ending Barca’s two-year reign as Spanish champions and restoring the Madrid club’s fortunes in Europe.
The self-styled “Special One” has repeatedly said it himself but Real remain a work in progress while Barca are the finished article. They were superior in almost every department on Monday. Real’s Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Angel Di Maria were totally outplayed and fellow new signings Pedro Leon and Sergio Canales did not feature.
Mourinho instructed his players to sit back and try to catch Barca on the break, a strategy that backfired badly and allowed Guardiola’s team to settle quickly into their stride. Saturday’s La Liga match at home to Valencia will be a test of whether Monday’s humbling has inflicted lasting psychological damage.
3. Pep Guardiola is the true heir of Johan Cruyff and his side are a “Dream Team” for the 21st century.
Midfielder Guardiola played under Cruyff in the Dutchman’s all-conquering team of the 1990s and Monday’s 5-0 drubbing of Real was a repeat of the scoreline when the La Liga giants met at the Nou Camp in the 1993-94 season.
With most of their players schooled in the club’s “Masia” youth academy, they almost appear to be stroking the ball around for fun at times. On this occasion they were doing it at the expense of arch rivals Real, something that will rankle with the fiercely proud Madrid club and their demanding fans. Guardiola has won all five “Clasicos” since he became Barca coach at the end of the 2007-08 season.
4. Xavi is one of the finest midfield playmakers the game has seen.
The 30-year-old World Cup winner was once again at the heart of almost everything Barca did on Monday and it was his run into the box and clever finish past Spain team mate Iker Casillas in the 10th minute that set the team on their way. Twisting and turning his way into space, spraying balls right and left, exchanging quick passes with team mates and generally running the show, he left the Real players chasing shadows.
Young pretender Cesc Fabregas has some very big boots to fill if his eventual move back to Barca from Arsenal to replace Xavi ever comes off.
5. David Villa was worth 40 million euros ($52 million).
Great things were expected of Villa after he sealed a move to Barca from Valencia and was joint top scorer with five goals at the World Cup in South Africa. A relatively slow start disappointed some but he came good on Monday with two trademark goals and now has eight in the league this season, five behind Messi and six behind top scorer Ronaldo.
Guardiola has mainly deployed the 28-year-old on the left wing, though he has the freedom to roam inside. He has forged a lethal partnership with Messi and provided the assist for Pedro’s goal on Monday, the Asturian’s fourth of the campaign.
PHOTO: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (L) walks past Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of their Spanish first division soccer match at Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino.