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Ball Bullet Barça revel in Messi's clásico stranglehold over R
Barça revel in Messi's clásico stranglehold over Real Madrid

laying and winning here really turns me on,” Gerard Piqué said. When the final whistle went on Saturday night’s clásico, he led Barcelona’s players to the north end of the Santiago Bernabéu, a place they’ve come to know well. High in the corner a couple of hundred fans remained while the rest of the stadium silently emptied, defeated. Piqué raised his fists. “Time for a beer,” Ivan Rakitic said, heading to join them. Arms around each other’s shoulders, they sang, bounced about a bit and then turned towards the tunnel. Piqué embraced Lionel Messi, teammates since they were 13. Luis Suárez looked west, where the families sit, and waved. And in the dressing room, someone took a photo; “Déjà vu,” the caption read. It was only a short while and it wasn’t particularly wild, which probably said something, but together they celebrated.

Three days after coming to the home of the greatest rivals they have – the greatest rivals anyone has – and knocking Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, Barcelona came back again and effectively knocked them out of the league too. “Madrid surrender,” said the front of AS; Marca led on “Another blow from Barcelona.” “They’re a bunch of champions,” cheered Sport, which they’re not yet but they might well be. Madrid, meanwhile, almost certainly will not. A 1-0 win, secured with Ivan Rakitic’s wonderfully taken goal, leaves Barcelona seven points clear of Atlético, 12 ahead of Madrid. Add head-to-head and it’s effectively 13: defeated twice all season, by Leganés and Betis, Barcelona could lose four times and Madrid still couldn’t catch them. Which would make it just two league titles in 11 years.

Madrid have won four of the last five European Cups, the second-best run in history, behind their own from 1955-1960. It is the trophy that overshadows everything and the one Barcelona publicly declared a priority – not just because they’ve only won one in seven years but also because while they weren’t winning it Madrid were. Yet if Madrid have been the best team in Europe, they weren’t the best in Spain. It is half a century since anyone even got lose to dominating a decade like Barcelona have dominated this: Madrid won eight of 10 leagues from 1960 to 1970; Hold on to this lead and Barcelona will have won eight leagues in eleven years. They have also won six of the last ten cups, and have another final to come.. That’s one reason this result felt so significant; the other wasn’t really about the titles but something else a little deeper and a little more direct.

By the end of the 242nd clásico, it felt like there was something inevitable about this result, even when there were moments in the game when Barcelona’s victory didn’t feel inevitable at all. Somehow, it felt like they would prevail. Perhaps in part that was because it had felt even less inevitable three days earlier, but had happened anyway: Barcelona scored three times with two shots on target. Different day, different display, the same outcome; different means, same end. “I can’t take this any more. What impotence I feel! I can’t take the harsh reality,” cried AS’s mad Madridista Tomás Roncero. “It hurts,” Santi Solari said. Dani Caravajal called it “cruel”.

Cruel, but not unusual. “This isn’t a stadium, it’s our garden,” sang the fans high in the north stand. Some wag on Wikipedia changed the Bernabéu entry to read: “… is a training ground used by Messi and company.”

On Saturday night, Barcelona made it 11 wins in 18 visits over the last decade. Yes, 11. In that time, Madrid have won four – and two were in the Super Cup, the least important competition of all.

Nor is it just that Barcelona have defeated Madrid, it is that they have often destroyed them. It’s a run that started with a 6-2 and there have been two 2-0s including one in a Champions League semi-final, two 3-0s and a 4-0, plus a 4-3 and a 3-2. There’s also been a 5-0 and a 5-1 at the Camp Nou. “We know it’s very hard to win here, but it’s become almost a habit, and that’s a huge achievement,” Piqué said.

A Barcelona soci since the day he was born, the grandson of a director, a kid who called Stoichkov “Stofiko”, Piqué knows this isn’t normal. “I’ve been living this rivalry since I was very little,” he said, and it was different then. He grew up watching Barcelona lose; since he has been playing, he has watched them win. Few can have enjoyed it more: politically outspoken, a man who enjoys winding Madrid up and who described the Bernabéu whistles as a heavenly symphony, who scored the sixth in the 6-2 and who raised his hand after the 5-0, emulating Tonny Bruins Slot, on Saturday he led celebrations. “I like to add to the atmosphere,” he said.

This, he knew, was bigger than just this year: Barcelona had just made it 72-72 in clásico wins in the league and pulled ahead in the all-time record, 96-95. It is the first time they have led Madrid for 87 years, which speaks of the shift over the last decade and beyond. It says something about history in the making – and the breaking. Until 2003, Barcelona had only ever won 13 games at the Bernabéu, going back to its inauguration in 1948; in the 14 years since 2004, they’ve won 14 times there, including a third of their league wins ever.

In April 2004, Santi Solari scored, but so did Kluivert and Xavi, as Barcelona won 2-1. Two seasons later, Ronaldinho scored twice in a 3-0. It was overlooked amid the ovation handed to the Brazilian, but that day a tiny 18-year-old made his first start for Barcelona and performed brilliantly. No one has ever won more times at the Bernabéu than him.

Above all, perhaps, like Gerard Piqué: “spectacular”, Shakira rightly said, while Ter Stegen called him and his defensive partner “splendid”. He was unbeatable and he was unbeaten again. “Defeating Madrid is different,” Piqué once said, “we’ve always been inferior to them: not because we were, but because of everything. But in the last few years, we’ve had a generation that have been able to compete with them – and win.” On Saturday night that generation won again, achieving something that all those other generations could not. This was the 22nd clásico since Piqué returned to Barcelona and they have lost just four of them; this was their 14th win and it took their total wins ahead of Madrid’s for the first time since January 1932.

One day in when Piqué was thirteen or fourteen, Louis van Gaal came around to his house for dinner. His dad introduced him as the club’s future centre-back and he was desperate to impress but things didn’t go as planned. Not that night, anyway. The Dutchman, coach at the Camp Nou at the time, walked over to him and, without warning, pushed Piqué over and on to the floor.

Towering above the teenager, he looked down and in that voice of his delivered his verdict: you’re too weak to play for Barcelona.

Cowed, Piqué didn’t say a word that night but 18 years on, 87 since Manuel Olivares’s two goals gave Barcelona a 2-0 win at Chamartín, he had the last word. “I enjoy coming here,” said the centre-back who plays for the best Barcelona in history.

Sours: www.theguardian.com
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