Real Madrid dominate Barca, fueled by the new stars of an age-old rivalry


Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal during the La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in Madrid, Spain on Sunday, October 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The biggest classic have always been characterized by a great mixture of pomp and class. They were terrific occasions that somehow beat the hype because the quality of the football was so ridiculously high. And they were exalted and punctuated by stars – the ingredient that had been lost in recent years.

The games had remained significant. But for a barren few years, when Cristiano Ronaldo jetted to Turin and Lionel Messi to Paris, they were no longer classic. The quality dropped. Both clubs collapsed. And the greatest rivalry in global sport suffered as a result.

However, on Sunday it was revived and partially revived by a new generation of stars. Real Madrid and Barcelona met in the La Liga summit. And Madrid won 3-1 mainly because Vinicius Jr. and Federico Valverde wore white.

None have established themselves at the level that Luka Modric or Andres Iniesta or Neymar have maintained for years. But they are the burgeoning faces of a rivalry that has called for new, world-class blood. And they ignited it on Sunday when they unlocked a Champions League final in May. Vini scored Sunday’s first goal with a majestic shot from behind Barca’s back four. And he expertly executed the move that led to the second.

Valverde capped that move with the kind of banger that propelled him into the sport’s elite. Its onset was gradual and therefore underestimated. He wasn’t ranked among the top 100 players in the world last year. But he belongs in the top 25 and counting. He was the best player at the Bernabeu on Sunday and could be for many years to come.

The first goal wasn’t just Vini’s goal. It was also a creation of Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema. Kroos’ skills on the ball – and on Sunday while on the move, even when Sergio Busquets pulls him down by the shoulders – are second to none. Benzema is likely to win the Ballon d’Or soon – his first at the age of 34.

They, too, have contributed to Real Madrid’s supremacy.

But Real were the winners and are the LaLiga favorites and are currently dominating the rivalry because they have found the players who will become the protagonists of the rivalry in this decade. It has paired them with serial winners like Modric and Kroos who have a lot more to give.

Barca might have found a few too and one of them played with it Madridista nerves late. Ansu Fati, two weeks shy of his 20th birthday, rolled Real and put a goal up for Ferran Torres to make it 2-1. The Spanish teenager almost equalized a few minutes later when Madrid, once comfortable, suddenly looked vulnerable.

But Valverde ended La Liga 187’s Clasico with a stellar run from back to front. Even after 90 minutes of relentless running, physical strength and technical prowess, he carried the ball at a menacing pace and pounced on Barca’s defence. He fed Rodrygo, who won and scored the penalty to make it 3-1, and wished them good night.

The Bernabeu rebounded, saluted their team and celebrated a biannual game with new personality. It delivered on Sunday, as it has often done over the years, and as it should for years to come.

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