If Barcelona wanted to prove their resurgence under Xavi should be taken seriously then silencing the Bernabeu and simultaneously rekindling the magic of El Clasico after a period of Real Madrid dominance was some statement.
The Catalan giants have been reborn under their legendary former midfielder and after Sunday’s historic and emphatic victory against the runaway La Liga leaders it looks certain Xavi will only further that legacy from the dugout.
“We are back,” tweeted veteran defender Gerard Pique minutes after the visitors completed a dominant 4-0 drubbing of their oldest and fiercest rivals to end a run of five successive losses in the encounter.
That was poignant coming from a man who has experienced more Clasicos than most, through the intensity of the Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi era, under the highs of Pep Guardiola’s mesmerising side and more recently during the upheaval caused by Barca’s financial struggles.
It would still take a serious collapse for Real Madrid to not be celebrating a 35th title with their fans at the Cibeles Fountain in the heart of the Spanish capital come the end of the season.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side remain nine points clear of Sevilla and 12 ahead of third-placed Barcelona at the top of La Liga, but Barcelona have now set the tone for the future of this iconic encounter.
“We changed our negative dynamic of losing the last few Clasicos,” said Xavi. “We’ve proved we can compete and play against the best sides in the world.
“I don’t know if we can win the title. We can’t rule out anything. Maybe we’re a bit late but this is a very big win for us.”
“I’m very proud of my team. This is El Clasico and can only help us going forward. There’s still a lot to do.”
After losing their way under Ronald Koeman, Xavi has managed to quickly implement his desired style at Barcelona since arriving in November and has been boosted by what now look very shrewd signings in January.
“I’m not surprised about Xavi,” says former Real Madrid and Barcelona striker Javier Saviola, who spotted the midfielder’s potential as a coach when they played together for Barca.
“You could already see that he had the ability to acquire this facet of coaching that is so complicated for everyone. He had those tactical coaching habits, always positioning the players he had in front of him in a way that he saw them, that we don’t realise. So you could already see things.
“He has given Barca a different face. The signings have been important. The signings that have come in this season have been beneficial to Barca and they are playing at a high level.
“We have to be patient with him, but I think he’s the right coach because he was born at the club, he has the Barca philosophy and he undoubtedly has everything to be able to succeed at FC Barcelona.”
Those new signings include Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who stunned the home fans at the Bernabeu into silence when he headed Barcelona’s first and then sent some heading towards the exits when he grabbed his side’s fourth after just 51 minutes.
The Real supporters then had to suffer the ignominy of listening to a small pocket of travelling Barcelona fans “ole” every pass, with teenage midfielders Pedri and Gavi suggesting they can be key components of many El Clasicos to come.
“When Messi and Cristiano left people were saying the Clasico won’t be the same,” said former Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta, who was in Madrid to work on ESPN’s US coverage. “But Spanish clubs have been really good at producing young players.”
La Liga know the huge global pull of El Clasico and have been attempting to glam up their marquee fixture by giving it the ‘Super Bowl’ treatment, hosting pre-match parties featuring former players, celebrities and influencers and staging fan events across the city.
But after going three years without beating Real in La Liga, Barcelona’s dominant win has now done the marketing for them.
In the days leading up to El Clasico, cranes and construction vehicles continued to work inside and out of the Bernabeu as part of the futuristic renovations on Real Madrid’s famous old ground.
As Ancelotti looked on at the end of a chilly Sunday night it appeared the confidence of his team, who were missing prolific striker Karim Benzema, may also be in need of a little support.
Since Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018, the club have been searching for someone to assume the same super star status and former Real Madrid striker Hugo Sanchez hopes that can be solved with the signing of France forward Kylian Mbappe from Paris St-Germain in the summer.
“Taking into account negotiations, the expectations Madrid fans have is he will sign,” says Sanchez. “He is the most attractive player in the world, Real have been patiently waiting one, two, three seasons and he would make La Liga a lot more attractive for us.”
Ronaldo’s presence is still felt in the city via his Ballon d’Ors and individual accolades on display in Real’s trophy room, his branded gyms dotted around Madrid and his own Pestana CR7 hotel on Gran Via.
Across the street at the club store, however, Vinicius Junior is the current poster boy and proved Real’s only attacking threat on Sunday, with former Real Madrid winger Savio confident his fellow Brazilian will also be a star for Los Blancos.
“He has a lot of potential, a lot of individual quality, a lot of technical quality and this season he is learning more and more about Spanish and European football, about tactics,” says Savio.
“At the same time he is a player that I like a lot because he has a lot of personality, he faces one on one – he never stopped being the Vinicius I saw in Flamengo, the one-on-one, the individual quality, and this year he is showing more and more of his potential and talent.”
Having had their grip on El Clasico broken, Real will need Vinicius and any incoming stars this summer to help them compete with what is sure to be a Barcelona side who will challenge more strongly for the title
“I’m confident Xavi’s blueprint guarantees them a foot in every single league game, including the Clasico,” says Domagoj Kostanjsak, a sports journalist and football analyst who covers Barcelona.
“Once they upgrade certain positions, they’ll be well on their way back to the very top – I’d consider them strong contenders for silverware as soon as next season.”
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