Alaba and Vinicius showcase widening Real Madrid-Barça gap
The gap between Real Madrid and Barcelona is widening and that was illustrated in Los Blancos' latest Clasico win at Camp Nou.
David Alaba is one of few footballers who can claim to have experienced consistent success against Barcelona in the 21st century and he once again proved a thorn in their side as El Clasico went in Real Madrid's favour at Camp Nou.
In three games against Barça for Bayern Munich, Alaba enjoyed a 100 per cent win record.
Bayern scored 15 goals and conceded just two across those matches, eight of those coming in Die Roten's incredible Champions League quarter-final win of 2020.
And the Austria international remains unbeaten versus the Blaugrana, his stunning left-foot finish helping settle a game in which Barcelona misfired in their first Clasico since Lionel Messi's departure and Madrid's brightest young talent rose to the occasion.
Alaba opens his account in style
Alaba's goal, his first since joining Madrid, was one worthy of winning a fixture of such magnitude. Having won the ball from Memphis Depay on the edge of his own box, he surged forward before finding Vinicius Junior on the left flank.
The former Bayern star initially wanted the return pass but Vinicius eschewed that option, instead playing a superb ball to Rodrygo Goes in the centre.
Rodrygo's pass to find Alaba continuing his charge was inch-perfect, only bettered by the quality of a blistering finish from just inside the area.
Barca struggled to deal with Madrid's threat down the left flank throughout, Vinicius taking the chance to emerge as the star of a Clasico absent its departed modern-day leading man.
Vinicius shines in the spotlight
Vinicius went into the fixture having scored seven goals and provided the assist for three in all competitions. He did not add to either of those tallies but his influence across the Brazilian's 87 minutes on the pitch was obvious,
Ensuring Sergino Dest endured a difficult afternoon at both ends of the pitch, Vinicius attempted a game-high eight dribbles, four of which were successful.
No player on the field participated in (20) or won more duels (10) as Vinicius excelled at putting Barca under pressure.
Only Depay (six) and Ansu Fati (seven) had more touches in the opposition box, yet Barca's inability to make the most of those touches was telling.
Barça bereft of attacking inspiration
Alaba's shot that gave Madrid the lead had an Expected Goals (xG) value of 0.08, reflecting the difficulty he should have had in beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
It came seven minutes after Dest had blazed high over the crossbar with the goal seemingly at his mercy from close range. Barca did not have a chance as presentable until Sergio Aguero scored with a point-blank effort from effectively the final kick of the game after Lucas Vazquez had put it to bed with Madrid's second goal.
Barcelona finished with 12 shots but only two on target. Madrid hit the target with five of their 10 efforts. Nine of Barça's shots came from inside the box but they ended a frustrating encounter with only two 'big chances' compared to three for Los Blancos.
Those numbers are reflective of a game in which, without Messi there to stretch Madrid's shape, Carlo Ancelotti's men succeeded in staying deep and compact and hitting Barcelona on the counter, which they twice did to devastating effect.
When Barcelona got into the final third, the lack of creativity and threat in contrast to Madrid was startling.
Ronald Koeman could do nothing to prevent Messi from leaving under the financial pressures faced by Barça and he certainly cannot be blamed for a howitzer of a strike from Alaba that tilted matters in Madrid's favour.
Yet there will surely be questions asked as to how a man who played under Johan Cruyff at Barça can oversee a team that, at least on Sunday, was so desperately short of the attacking flair that has for so long defined this famous club.
The final score may have looked tight but, in the post-Messi era, the gap between Barca and their arch-rivals is a chasm.