MADRID -- Real Madrid looked comfortable throughout their 3-1 Clásico win over Barcelona at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday. Karim Benzema, Federico Valverde and Rodrygo scored the goals for the hosts, with Ferran Torres notching a consolation tally for the Catalan club.
The well-deserved win sees Los Blancos take a three-point lead at the top of the LaLiga table after nine games played, ahead of second-placed Barca.
1. Ruthless Madrid take their chances
This game laid bare the gap between a mature, fully formed Madrid team that knows exactly what it's doing, and a Barcelona side who are still a work in progress. Madrid might have had less possession (43.8% to 56.2%) and fewer shots (8 to 18), created fewer chances (6 to 13) and had a lower XG (1.44 to 2.25) but none of that mattered in the slightest. Carlo Ancelotti's team were ruthlessly clinical, making sure the key moments -- notably, the chances that were converted into goals by Benzema and Valverde in the first half -- went their way.
There's a battle-hardened feel to this Madrid side, from the experience of Ancelotti on the bench to David Alaba at the back, Toni Kroos -- who was outstanding -- and Luka Modric in midfield and Benzema in attack. Even relative youngsters Valverde and Vinicius Junior already play with the mentality and confidence of veterans. The absence of Thibaut Courtois didn't matter -- Andriy Lunin was mostly well protected in goal -- and once Valverde had made it 2-0, Madrid's lead never felt under threat until those nervy few moments after Ferran had pulled a goal back, before Rodrygo's penalty.
Barca might be making progress but on this showing, Madrid are still further ahead than their three-point advantage at the top of the table would suggest. -- Kirkland
2. A wake-up call of a week for Barca
This week has been a reality check for Barcelona, whose start to the season had shown promise after a busy summer in the transfer market. Wednesday's draw with Inter Milan, which left them on the verge of Champions League elimination, and now this defeat have brought them back down to earth.
They came into the Clásico sitting top of LaLiga with the best attack (20 goals scored) and defence (one goal conceded) in the league, but hindsight now suggests that was perhaps down to the quality of the opposition they had faced recently. Six of their seven wins have come against sides in the bottom half.
The good news is there is still undoubted quality in this side. They are still better than the rest in LaLiga and on that fact alone they should at least be able to keep up with Madrid, who move three points ahead of them for now.
Robert Lewandowski did not score here but he has scored 14 times this season -- more than any Barca player managed last season. Ansu Fati and goal scorer Torres impressed off the bench, too, although there will be worries about Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha's form.
Xavi also needs to find the balance between midfield and attack. The midfielders, such as Pedri, suit a more controlled game, while Dembele is best when matches open up. -- Marsden
3. Benzema returns to form at the right time
There's no better game than the Clásico to end a goal-scoring drought. Benzema hadn't scored since August, although that included a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury. Even when fit, there's been a lack of sharpness and a feeling that he's been playing within himself, just a step below his brilliant best. Opening the scoring here against Barca, a day before he's expected to lift the Ballon d'Or, was the ideal way to silence any premature criticism.
This wasn't a vintage Benzema performance -- he visibly tired as the match went on, being subbed off in the final minutes -- and it was unfortunate that he wasn't on the pitch in added time to take the penalty that would have given him the opportunity to make up for his miss from the spot against Osasuna earlier this month. But it was a step in the right direction. Four goals from six LaLiga appearances this season is a solid, if unspectacular total, and there'll be plenty of time for him to find his level between now and the end of the season.
Madrid are top of the table without Benzema firing on all cylinders, and that can't be a bad thing. -- Kirkland
4. Barca need shoring up at the back
Barcelona will not compete with Madrid or the top teams in Europe until they can improve their defensive structure and eradicate individual errors from their game. It cost them against Inter and was once again their downfall at the Bernabeu.
Sergio Busquets was beaten too easily by Kroos for Madrid's first goal. The Germany midfielder then freed Vinicius, and when Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved from the Brazilian, it was Benzema who was left all alone to open the scoring.
For the next Madrid goal, Eric Garcia deflected the ball into Vinicius' path when there was no apparent danger, and it was all too easy for Madrid from there. Barca's defence stood off and Valverde was able to drill home from outside the box. Garcia then gave a penalty away when he was caught flat-footed by Rodrygo late on, although Barca will point to a penalty that was not given for a Dani Carvajal challenge on Lewandowski.
The surprise is that Barca had seemed to be improving in this regard. They had conceded one goal in eight league games this season prior to Sunday, but Madrid, like Inter in midweek, exposed that statistic. -- Marsden
Real Madrid: Andriy Lunin 7, Dani Carvajal 7, Eder Militao 7, David Alaba 7, Ferland Mendy 7, Aurelien Tchouameni 7, Toni Kroos 8, Luka Modric 7, Federico Valverde 8, Vinicius Junior 6, Karim Benzema 7
Subs: Eduardo Camavinga 6, Rodrygo 8, Antonio Rudiger 6, Marco Asensio 6
Barcelona: Marc-Andre ter Stegen 6, Sergi Roberto 5, Jules Kounde 6, Eric Garcia 4, Alejandro Balde 6, Sergio Busquets 4, Frenkie de Jong 6, Pedri 6, Raphinha 5, Robert Lewandowski 6, Ousmane Dembele
Subs: Ferran Torres 6, Jordi Alba 6, Gavi 6, Ansu Fati 6, Franck Kessie 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Federico Valverde. Scored the crucial second goal and worked as hard as ever. Keeps making himself undroppable in big games.
Fede Valverde top 3 in the world right now— Toni Kroos (@ToniKroos) October 16, 2022
WORST: Vinicius Junior. He wasn't bad by any means -- no Madrid player played really poorly -- but he wasn't quite at the high, decisive level we've come to expect from him in recent months, especially given that he was up against Sergi Roberto at right-back.
BEST: Ansu Fati. Ansu only came on in the 73rd minute but he provided more of a spark than of the Barca players that had started the match. Within minutes he had shown a desire to shoot from distance, fizzing an effort just wide, and then he produced a fine solo run to set up Barca's goal. He even had a half-chance to equalise before Madrid's late penalty.
WORST: Sergio Busquets. Too soft on Kroos in the build-up to Madrid's opener and not in position for the second. Taken off on the hour mark to cap a bad week for the Barca captain, who also gave a goal away against Inter.
Highlights and notable moments
The buildup to the Clásico had everything. Spare a thought for the horses, who could certainly sense the tension in the air as the Madrid bus made its way to the Bernabeu.
It didn't take long for Benzema to ease that tension among the home crowd. A fine appetizer ahead of what's expected to be the Ballon d'Or headed his way on Monday.
Benzema in the right place at the right time ⏰ pic.twitter.com/LlLnfWUtZu— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) October 16, 2022
Valverde, with venom, and Los Blancos put Barca into a two-goal hole after 35 minutes. The Uruguay international is feeling it in 2022-23.
A GOLAZO FROM FEDERICO VALVERDE 😱 pic.twitter.com/f1KnpCXUq6— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 16, 2022
The one and only Cristina Alexander summed up the defending from Barcelona quite nicely. Kevin was so proud of that chili, too.
One of these men is likely to win the Ballon d'Or on Monday, and one is likely to go home disappointed. You decide who is who.
Welcome to El Clásico, Lewy 😅 pic.twitter.com/A5OWFc9mgF— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 16, 2022
Torres, scoring his first LaLiga goal since February 20, also against Madrid at the Bernabeu, halves Madrid's lead. The ex-Valencia starlet's goal gave the Catalan club some real hope in the game's closing moments. Still trailing, with less than 10 minutes to play, gesticulating to the fans is certainly a choice.
BARCELONA HAVE LIFE 😱 pic.twitter.com/iVnWLsRNkI— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 16, 2022
And then Rodrygo put a Madrid win beyond doubt.
RODRYGO SEALS THE VICTORY FOR REAL MADRID 😤 pic.twitter.com/nPx77ZQOPE— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 16, 2022
After the match: What the managers, players said
Modric: "We're happy with the win, with the game we played, really happy. And we want to thank the fans for the atmosphere they created today ... We knew the time would come when we'd suffer because [Barcelona] use the ball well and that's when we have to defend well, and we did it. We were very clinical in attack. We played a great game."
Xavi: "Sometimes you find yourselves on a bad run, but luckily it's just three points. We tried, we had faith ... It was a good chance to stay top of LaLiga. We had it there at times, but we did not take advantage of the moments when we were on top. Madrid defended well and the feeling is we're on a bad run and nothing is coming off. Like I say, it's just three points and the season is long, although that is not much of a consolation right now."
Rodrygo: "[Scoring my first Clásico goal] was a huge joy. It was a difficult penalty, against a great goalkeeper. I'm really happy. There was a lot of pressure."
Kounde: "Really disappointed. We have not played poorly, but the first half we slipped up in areas where they are strong, in the transitions. We should have made the foul to avoid the first goal and the second is the same. That's the strength of Madrid. Two chances, two goals. We have to learn that."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Benzema's goal was the first that Ter Stegen had conceded in 636 LaLiga minutes, dating back to Aug. 22. It was just the second goal Barca had conceded in the league this season.
- Dating back to 2010-11 in LaLiga and the Champions League, and 2014-15 in the Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercopa, Busquets completed the fewest touches (59) and fewest passes (47) as a starter in a Clásico.
- The last time Barcelona or Real Madrid came back from two or more goals down to win El Clásico was in 1959.
- In 2021-22, it took Rodrygo 33 games to score four LaLiga goals. It's only taken him seven games this season.
- This is the first time that consecutive LaLiga Clásicos have been decided by multiple goals, with a different winner in each match, since 2008.
Real Madrid: Madrid travel to Alicante on Wednesday for a midweek LaLiga contest at Elche, before returning to the Spanish capital for another league fixture on Saturday, when Sevilla visit the Bernabeu.
Barcelona: Barca, too, have two LaLiga fixtures to contend with in the coming week. Xavi & Co. will be grateful to play both contests in the comfort of the Camp Nou, with Villarreal visiting on Thursday before Barca welcome Athletic Club to Catalonia on Sunday.