Barcelona put in a virtuoso display to defeat Real Madrid 4-0 on Saturday and establish a six-point lead over their fierce rivals at the top of the Spanish Liga. UEFA.com's Madrid reporter, Joseph Walker, was at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Who needs Messi?
Luis Suárez and Neymar more than stepped up to the plate in Lionel Messi's two-month absence with a knee injury, scoring 19 consecutive league goals between themselves until Andrés Iniesta made it 3-0 early in the second half.
When Messi came on 12 minutes after the break – his first appearance since 26 September – Barcelona ramped it up a gear. When asked after the game if it was going to be an issue fitting the No10 back into his starting XI, Luis Enrique joked: "Yeah, what a problem to have!" It is one coaches across the continent would welcome.
"He's the side's jack of all trades. He can play in any line on the pitch. He doesn't lose the ball, has quality, gets into good positions and possesses physical strength. He has everything to become a great player." That is how Enrique described Sergi Roberto, a player who has long been touted as a future star at the Camp Nou.
The 23-year-old has certainly made his mark this term. His performance today, on perhaps the biggest stage of all, illustrated his development as a footballer. Starting on the right of a front three, alongside Suárez and Neymar in the unenviable 'Messi role', he provided his fourth assist of the campaign for the Uruguayan international's opener. It was the kind of drive in from the wing that Messi would have been proud of.
Iniesta's importance to Barcelona and Spain has never been in doubt, but a combination of age and injuries has inevitably meant the metronome's powers have waned slightly. Today, however, the 31-year-old delivered a vintage display, dominating from start to finish in the centre of the pitch. His turn away from Luka Modrić before feeding Neymar for the second goal was a sight to behold, while his sublime finish to make it 3-0 was that of a man on top of his game. When brought off with 13 minutes left he was afforded the rarest of honours for a Blaugrana: a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Benzema is back
There were few positives for Madrid coach Rafael Benítez to take away from the game, but the return of Karim Benzema after a six-week absence was one. The France forward started the season on fire, scoring six goals in his first six Liga outings, until his progress was checked by an injury sustained on international duty last month.
The 27-year-old's ability to link up with Cristiano Ronaldo is crucial and there was evidence that, while understandably rusty, Benzema should soon pick up where he left off. In the first half a neat one-two led to Ronaldo testing Claudio Bravo, while Benzema himself had a stooping header palmed away by the Chile No1 in the closing stages.
Having gone 18 matches without defeat in all competitions, a run stretching back to early May, Madrid have now lost back-to-back games. They have an immediate chance to make amends, though, when they face Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday safe in the knowledge their place in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage is secure. Aware three points will secure top spot in Group A, the Whites can get back on track and put their disappointment behind them in the only way they know how: with a win.
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