The famous white handkerchiefs were out again, being waved all around the Santiago Bernabéu by disillusioned madrileños after Real Madrid’s latest Clásico humiliation. The circumstances when these symbols of discontent were last brandished drew some parallels with Saturday’s 0-4 hammering.
Schalke had scored four goals against the defending champions in their own backyard in a Champions League quarter-final, the same feat Barcelona managed at the weekend, albeit in La Liga. Similarly, the managers were left perplexed following the result. Carlo Ancelotti failed to comprehend how “we played so badly” after the loss to the German side, whilst Rafael Benítez bluntly stated “it didn’t go well” against Barcelona.
Yet whilst the Schalke defeat was “espantoso” (“frightening”) according to MARCA, Los Blancos’ defeat at the weekend was described by the same newspaper as destructive. Arguably, the destruction began before a ball was even kicked, with Casemiro’s omission from the starting XI one of many detrimental aspects to Madrid’s performance.
Whilst MARCA’s remark that the 23-year-old is the “new Makélélé” seems rather far-fetched, his absence resulted in the home side lacking the necessary verve and tenacity to combat Barcelona’s superlative midfield. Too often were trio Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Andrés Iniesta given time and space aplenty to weave their magic and create copious opportunities, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić failing to provide any sort of first defensive line.
The Brazilian’s omission is all the more baffling given that his fellow countrymen Danilo and Marcelo occupied both full-back positions and demonstrated typical Brazilian full-back play, to put it lightly. However, that was not to be the most unnerving area of the field for Madrid.
James Rodríguez, aside from a long-range effort saved from Claudio Bravo, and Karim Benzema’s rather fruitless performances were probably down to a lack of match fitness than an intended sluggish performance. The same cannot be said for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale though, who both seem to have undefined roles and have consequently become increasingly fallible in front of goal.
Transfer speculation and a return to form rarely coincide, with the media replete with reports of a return to Manchester United or a lucrative deal at Paris Saint-Germain as being Ronaldo’s next career step. Simultaneously, as expected, the 30-year-old’s waning influence on the side as a whole has been paired with a goalscoring drought.
So far his usual tallies have proved elusive, having scored just thirteen goals this season. His team-mate Bale has recorded an extremely modest two goals, both of which arrived in the rout of Sporting Gijón. Such uncanny performances are conducive to increasing the burden on the returning Benzema, as investigations into the alleged blackmail scandal of national teammate Mathieu Valbuena continue.
However, the Clásico was not played in order to promote anti-Madrid propaganda on a worldwide stage. Barcelona were excellent, their discernible camaraderie conflicting with the attitude of their forlorn rivals. Iniesta rediscovered that je ne sais quoi that has largely eluded him for a couple of years now, so much so that his goal was applauded by sections of the Madrid faithful, drawing comparisons to the 2005 Clásico at the same venue, where Ronaldinho received the same reception.
Relatively little needs to be said about Neymar and Luis Suárez, with the former terrorising Danilo and the latter benefiting from the marauding runs of his partner-in-crime. Lionel Messi’s introduction as a second-half substitute was one of ironic consolidation and perhaps arrogance. However, the Catalan giants had earned that right.
Sergi Roberto’s versatility is well-regarded by Luis Enrique, seemingly at home as cover for Dani Alves at right-back, in central midfield or in a more attacking midfield role. The 23-year-old’s incisiveness was brought to the fore for the first goal, with his acute pass allowing Suárez to finish astutely.
Gerard Piqué desperately attempted to show ‘versatile qualities’ by trying to add his name to the scoresheet, only to see Munir El Haddadi foil his dream. Describing the whistles he received from the crowd as a “symphony”, there was no doubt that Piqué and his fellow teammates were all in tune, even if he bellowed into the night sky after Munir had robbed him of the opportunity of scoring in a second Clásico.
Whilst Barcelona’s presidential elections were followed with great interest, very few would be inclined to delve into the perpetual nature of politics at Real Madrid. Madrid’s latest defeats to Sevilla and Barcelona are an indictment of Benítez’s faltering system. Perhaps the duress of having to field a Galácticos side, regardless of the opposition, from club president Florentino Pérez has left the former Liverpool, Napoli and Chelsea manager in the lurch.
Some supporters may unequivocally be calling for Pérez’s resignation, some Benítez’s. Yet everyone desires change.
Nevertheless, The Guardian’s Sid Lowe may have perfectly summed up the current predicament of Ancelotti’s successor: “When fans point at presidents, presidents tend to point at managers”. Given the current situation, Benítez may face that finger sooner than he would like.
Photograph: Football.ua via Wikimedia Commons