On the 28th September 2011 substitute Jeffrén Suárez lifted the ball over an on rushing Iker Casillas for Barcelona’s fifth goal of the night, it marked a period of complete dominance for the Catalan side like never seen before.
Pep Guardiola’s men thrashed their rivals from Madrid in 90 minutes of pure magic. Barcelona controlled the game from the outset, bouncing and popping the ball around the pitch, leaving Jose Mourinho and his team embarrassed.
Barcelona were enjoying a golden era under Pep, based around a gifted group of players with outstanding technical ability and complete belief in their manager’s style of play.
The Blaugrana had won the league four of the previous six seasons, two under Frank Rijkaard and two under Pep. They were on their way to another having demolished their closest rivals 5-0 at the Camp Nou.
Barca had also earned European glory in this period of unrivalled success by beating Manchester United to the Champions League in 2009.
In 2011, they would go on repeat this achievement, again against Manchester United but this time in a night of pure football brilliance at Wembley in which United could not get near their Catalan counterparts. Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson had to accept his place behind them.
They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.
The shift of power
Madrid, conversely, had not won a Champions League trophy since 2002 when Zinedine Zidane scored that volley against Bayer Leverkusen to give the Galacticos their 9th European Cup.
Florentino Pérez’s side did win back-to-back La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008 but since then they had been outshone and outclassed by a Barcelona team made up of proud Catalans who had grown up in and graduated from the Barcelona academy.
However, the power shift is now well and truly back in Madrid. The Galacticos have once again regained control of both domestic and European football, whilst Barca are left playing catch up.
In the past four season, Madrid have claimed three out of the four possible Champions League titles on offer. Perez’s team now have 12 European Cups to their name, five more than their closest competitors, AC Milan who are on seven.
The Galacticos also became the first team ever to win two consecutive Champions League trophies last season as they completed a European Cup and La Liga double under former Real Madrid star, Zinedine Zidane.
Though the La Liga campaign was extremely tight, with just three points in it between the champions Madrid and runners up Barca, it is in the structure and planning for the future whereby Madrid have excelled.
This summer we saw the shock transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. That move was a huge factor in the power struggle between the Catalan club and their rivals.
No way would Perez have let arguably the next best player in the world after Messi and Ronaldo leave his team. A player who has huge marketing potential and is still only 25 years old.
Instead, Perez has ensured his biggest stars are almost locked in to staying at the Santiago Bernabeu, where they can bring his side success and no one else. This is reflected in the buyout clauses of his Galacticos: Ronaldo and Karim Benzema will cost at least £894m (€1bn), Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez command buyouts of £447m. All of which are higher than the buyout clauses set by Barca for Neymar (£198m), Luis Suarez (£179m) and Lionel Messi (£268m).
It is not just the current stars that Madrid have been nurturing. Zidane’s side has a group of talented younger Spanish players in his ranks that have already shown that they can play with their fellow superstars.
Last season we saw the rise of Isco to an unbelievable technician in midfield, assisting goals, linking play and almost never giving the ball away. Then there is Marco Asensio, the 21-year-old has already made a name for himself as the rising star of Spanish football, his recent thunderbolt strike against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup final showed just what he is capable of.
There is also Borja Mayoral and Marcos Llorente. Mayoral is a young striker who has come through the Real Madrid academy and made his way into the first team squad at the age of 20. Llorente is a creative central midfielder who is also good at breaking up play. Both born in Madrid, both Madridistas.
This foundation of players who have either come up through the academy or who have been bought at a young age is a strategy Barca know all too well. During the Pep years, the core of his side was made of La Masia players turned into global superstars: Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Lionel Messi.
Now Barca’s academy, which has been referred to as a football institute for its unique ethos, has not produced an established first team player since Sergio Roberto, and has struggled to earn a consistent spot in the first XI.
The club has also seen the likes of Pedro, Fabregas, Thiago and Alexis Sanchez leave the club in the past few years without replacing them with quality young players or paying to get suitable replacements.
The gap between the two sides was shown in Real’s 3-1 victory in the first-leg of Super Cup final on Sunday. An own goal from Pique and goals from Ronaldo and Asencio sealed the victory for Madrid over a lacklustre Barca.
Now, Ernesto Valverde must regather his team for the second-leg which takes place on August 16th and then for their first La Liga clash against Real Betis on Sunday.
Valverde will be hoping to add to the signings of Paulinho, Nélson Semedo, Gerard Deulofeu and Marlon before the end of the transfer window to ensure his side are able to truly compete with their old enemies this season. It will be an uphill battle though…
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