Eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid treated football enthusiasts to a spectacular end-to-end contest which ended with Zinedine Zidane’s side taking home all the spoils.
Saturday’s Clásico, which also happened to be the 245th meeting of La Liga’s giants in official competition (Real now lead 97-96 in the head-to-head), saw both goalkeepers kept regularly busy with Neto and Thibaut Courtois facing a combined 25 shots and making nine saves.
But it was ultimately decided by the most experienced man on the pitch. Sergio Ramos, who Barça fans worldwide love to hate, won a contentious spot-kick which he subsequently converted meaning Real’s captain has now impressively registered a century of goals for Spain’s most decorated club.
An incredible feat, that and scoring his last 24 penalties, another Clásico veteran Luka Modrić sealed all three points in stunning fashion at the very end. Success also ensured Zizou — who came into this game sweating following two uncharacteristic defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk — hasn’t lost a single game at the Camp Nou as Real Madrid manager.
This latest showdown was his sixth visit as Los Blancos boss and he’s now returned to Madrid with three wins and three draws. In those outings — all but one coming in La Liga — his men have managed to score 11 goals while conceding six times. An enviable record which most coaches would love to have.
To put Zidane’s feat into some perspective, only legendary Real manager Miguel Muñoz has won more away Clásicos for the club (seven) than France’s only European Cup-winning coach in all competitions. Having a leader of Ramos’ repute undoubtedly helped, the impassioned centre-back returned from injury and was taking no prisoners, even pulling off a well-executed challenge on his opposite number Lionel Messi at the death.
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That was just one of three he completed. Ramos was a presence at either end having registered four shots, including his goal, while winning three aerial duels. Zidane’s opposite number, a centre-back that dominated these games in the 1990s, will be feeling the pressure.
Ronald Koeman, no stranger to Barça and Real locking horns, failed this first examination and given how these games are viewed by supporters (and decision-makers) it loses him some goodwill. But that’s not Zidane’s problem as Real out-shot Barça (15-10) despite seeing less of the ball (48% to 52%), which is straight out of the Frenchman’s playbook when dealing with a possession-oriented team.
As touched upon, experience in these matters count for a lot. Real’s midfield at the end consisted of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and the aforementioned Modric, all of whom have many miles under their belt.
But despite having even more Clasico appearances to his name, Messi, who is now scoreless in his last six meetings with Los Blancos, failed to turn up. He was shown to be visibly frustrated with proceedings and earned a yellow card for his troubles.
Keeping him quiet was half the battle, and Courtois produced a stunning save to deny Barça’s record goalscorer. Much will be expected of him in the coming weeks but for now, Camp Nou remains Zidane’s ground.