BARCELONA 1-2 REAL MADRID: Alaba’s sensational first-half strike and a late goal from Lucas Vazquez was enough to see Madrid claim three points at the Nou Camp
The two teams were evenly matched in the opening exchanges, but after Sergino Dest missed a sitter from close range for the hosts David Alaba fired in the opener with a stunning left-footed strike from a tight angle on 32 minutes.
Barca huffed and puffed in the second half but couldn’t find an equaliser, and it was Madrid who came closest to another goal when Karim Benzema was unable to scramble the ball home from practically on the goal-line.
And Lucas Vazquez sealed the win late on with a scruffy finish, although Sergio Aguero got a late consolation to mark his first Barca goal.
The result is a huge one for Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti, and they will have been delighted to get the three points in the first full-house El Clasico since the pandemic.
For Barca, however, it is further disappointment to add to their traumatic time of late.
Here are five talking points from the Nou Camp…
Koeman feels the heat
Following wins against Valencia and Dinamo Kiev in the last week, some of the pressure which was mounting on Barca manager Ronald Koeman’s shoulders had eased.
But a defeat at home in El Clasico does little to help any manager’s case, and if president Joan Laporta was waiting for an excuse to wield the axe, this could just do it.
It was far from a catastrophic loss or performance, but what was demonstrated today is that Madrid are some way above their bitter rivals – and that fact will not go down well at all with culers .
Whether there is a better option than Koeman who would be willing to come in at the moment is another question.
But he will be looking nervously over his shoulder in the coming days.
Alaba proves his worth
Some eyebrows were raised when Madrid, who have claimed to be cash-strapped, decided to hand astronomical wages of a reported £400,000-per-week and a five-year deal to 29-year-old Alaba this summer.
But the Austrian went some way to proving the doubters wrong today with a brilliant all-action performance to help inspire his side.
Alaba is known for his versatility, and despite being employed at centre-back today he needed no excuse to get forward, frequently bombing on when Madrid struck on the counter-attack.
And he was well worth his first goal for the club, which was a fierce effort that whistled past Marc-Andre ter Stegen before he knew what hit him.
With Alaba’s experience mixed with the youthful vigour of the likes of Vinicius, Madrid could yet go on to achieve great things this season.
Fati fails to spark
Ahead of kick-off, the overwhelming majority of supporters told Mirror Football that Ansu Fati will be the club’s next big star.
The precocious 18-year-old was handed Messi’s vacant No.10 shirt at the start of the season in a huge showing of faith from Barca.
Yet the forward struggled to deal with the weight of expectations on his shoulders today, and was outshone by Madrid’s fellow highly-rated youngster Vinicius Jr before he was withdrawn on 73 minutes.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, and Fati did get himself in good positions, yet didn’t quite have that killer finishing touch.
If he is to be Messi’s heir, there are still certainly things to improve.
Barcelona’s lack of focal point
Barca do not look a million miles away from being a good team again, despite the doom-mongering found on social media in particular.
What they still really lack, however, is that big presence up top, and a player who can hold up the ball and get runners in behind.
They currently just look toothless going forward, waiting for Memphis Depay to produce a bit of magic or inspiration to come from a genius moment elsewhere.
Alas, with Messi no longer able to provide those game-deciding touches, Barca have a big issue, and one that needs solving in January.
El Clasico still the big one
There had been suggestions ahead of this particular El Clasico that the fixture may have lost some of its appeal and shine given the departures of such star names over the last few years.
But there can no doubt about it – no matter who the 22 men are out on the pitch, this is and will likely always remain the most illustrious and glamorous club encounter in world football bar none.
The atmosphere in Barcelona was electric from early in the morning, with chants ringing out from local bars and fireworks being set off outside the ground.
And the deafening boos the Madrid players received from the few thousand already in the stadium as they ran out to warm up set the tone for what was to come.
It remained noisy throughout, and the spread-out Madrid fans who had taken the trip to Catalonia made themselves heard by celebrating Alaba’s goal wildly.
It was an enthralling spectacle as always, and with millions tuning in around the world despite the absence of Messi and co, there is clearly still huge interest in this match.
Long may it continue.