Real Madrid - Barcelona: when one's on a high, the other's on a low
For me, one of the abiding images of Sunday's Clásico is that of Casemiro beating the turf in reaction to Vinicius Júnior's goal. It's a picture that tells you just how much Real Madrid had been suffering in the days before the game, how much apprehension they'd felt about it, and how fresh memories still are of the seven-day period this time last year when, under Santiago Solari, they found themselves out of all three major competitions in the blink of an eye. When Gerard Piqué said Los Blancos had been the worst Madrid he'd come up against, he was most likely thinking about the looks he'd seen on their faces in the first half: unsure of themselves, fearful, unable to express themselves. This gave Barcelona heart.
Vinicius goal lifts weight off Real Madrid's shoulders - and places it on Barcelona's
Everything changed when Vinicius scored. He had, by the way, been the only Madrid man to cut a more positive figure, a player not shackled by fear. After his goal, Madrid's angst passed from the hosts - who had Thibaut Courtois to thank that Barça had not scored - to the visitors. Once again, when one team is on a high, the other is on a low; once again, the psychological factor tips the balance. A club in the midst of all manner of internal ructions - with the squad at odds with the board, the fans mistrustful of everything except Lionel Messi, and the strain of all this instability written all over the Argentine's face - Barça fell away. As Piqué said, they're in no position to speak about others teams' problems.
The passing years have hurt both sides. What Madrid most miss was watching on from a Bernabéu box. I'd have liked to see him in the president's; or, if in his own (or Jorge Mendes'), then at least with a Madrid shirt on. As for what Barça are lacking, it was something that wasn't there: the brand of play woven together by Xavi and Andrés Iniesta and culminated so brilliantly by Messi. In a bid to recapture that, the club pushed out a good man in Ernesto Valverde and brought in Quique Setién to revive a style which, in truth, probably cannot be revived: it was simply the product of putting together two midfield geniuses who were masterfully exploited by Luis Aragonés, Pep Guardiola and Vicente del Bosque. Those days are gone.