When the goal that decided that match was finally scored, Gerard Pique was lying on the ground in one penalty area and Lucas Vazquez was exploding in the other to slip the knife. Barcelona’s central defender was sent forward as an emergency striker on a mission to save his team, to do something, anything. Instead, left with his head in his hands, he desperately pleaded for a penalty that didn’t exist and watched any last hope slip away. Watching Real Madrid turn away too, the full-back ran along the field in the 94th minute to make 2-0.
As it turns out, there will be another goal, perhaps more than this match deserves, scored by Sergio Aguero in the 97th minute. But there were no celebrations, everyone knew it was already too late, and the picture of Real Madrid’s second decisive strike helped determine the 246th meeting between These teams were once giants. The closer Barcelona got to the opponent’s area – albeit very rarely their target – the closer they got to killing, the counter-attacks proved Madrid’s most lethal weapon.
Expertly tapped, Vinicius Junior in particular blazed a trail for Barcelona, even as two unexpected men eventually won with Madrid, which seemed to be saying something as well. David Alaba scored the first goal, and Lucas Vazquez scored the second. Ronald Koeman became the first Barcelona coach to lose three games in a row since Patrick O’Connell, before the Civil War. As for Carlo Ancelotti, he won this match for the first time. “It feels good,” he said with a smile, yet there was realism in his analysis and Madrid’s celebrations weren’t particularly excessive, as if they knew bigger challenges from Barcelona were to come.
There was certainly no mention of the “lion” that Ancelotti alluded to before the match, which is a reason his side embraces some trepidation. Koeman claimed that Barcelona played more, deserved more, and that defeat was hard to take, but that argument was hard to accept. At best, Barcelona was toothless: that chance that Pique lamented was just another, or would have had if it had been a real chance. The first came for Serginio Dest, who missed a great opportunity in the first half with the score remaining 0-0.
After that, there wasn’t much. Aguero’s goal, which was eventually swept away, was Barcelona’s first shot on target. “They actually had better chances than us,” Marc-Andre ter Stegen admitted. They came via a simple and increasingly familiar path as well.
This soon settled into a pattern in which Madrid seemed ready to wait and it quickly became clear why: the exit was so simple and effective that blocking this route of attack would, in fact, have been a waste. Barcelona wanted to move forward but to do so looked like falling into a trap. Almost every ball was sent behind them and usually looking for Vinicius running after Oscar Mingueza, whose afternoon only lasted 45 minutes. It was taken off at halftime. Damage occurred. He did not enjoy this.
Dest had a great opportunity in 24 minutes that may have changed everything but it ended with his teammates sliding to their knees. Memphis Depay had run away, he ignored Eder Militao and pulled a pass across the area. I fell behind my fati but at my feet was stung. Ten yards away, he hit a side road on the crossbar in the seats at the south end. Barcelona needed it. By then, they were warned about what would happen if they couldn’t control this – and Vinicius in particular. Mingueza couldn’t.
Vinicius had already made one chance, rushing back after just 11 minutes. Then he may have won a penalty, Mingezza is slow to see the danger and then unable to escape him, extending his hand while Vinicius is between him and Eric Garcia. Vinicius fell but the referee said no. Every ball, it seemed, was headed his way. Every time Real Madrid got it – including Thibaut Courtois – they shot forward in mostly straight lines. And when Vinicius equalized with Mingueza the next time, he made the first goal after half an hour.
Rodrygo, finding the field open again, watched his compatriot Alaba run from one area to another. “What was I thinking?” Alaba said yet. “About scoring.” Alone in the area, a great shot flew outside Ter Stegen. Another break for Vinicius ended in blocking Toni Kroos’ shot. And while Alaba stepped in to deny Fati from close range, there weren’t many results on the home side’s side. At the end of the first half, Mingisa was replaced by Philippe Coutinho, and Barcelona rose and took control of possession and territory, but Real Madrid did not mind.
It has been this way from the start and will be like this until the end. Ancelotti’s side waited for the moment to strike again, seemingly confident they wouldn’t get caught. Barcelona put in 34 crosses, but there were no less than adequate saves and nerves and you should witness such a result. That was when Pique stepped forward and so, he ran to victory again, Madrid did. “This match does not deserve a winner,” Ter Stegen said, but it did win one.