Monday 19 March 2018

Barca 'salute' a slap in the face for Madrid

Xavi believes Catalan giants 'getting better and better'

Pete Jenson in Barcelona

Jose Mourinho went back to work yesterday after receiving yet more bad news from Barcelona -- according to Xavi, the Spanish champions are still getting better and better.

The scorer of the first goal in Monday night's massacre said the victory was a new high, but that there was still so much more to a team now being talked about as the best in history.

"We are playing better than in our first season (under Guardiola). And although we have won a lot of trophies there are still a lot left for us to win," Xavi said. He swerved questions over his team's place in the all-time pecking order, but the 5-0 thrashing has Barcelona fans struggling to think of a better group of players.

"The 6-2 win (in May last year) at the Bernabeu was a great result, but this is even better because of the way we played," Xavi said. "It was an incredible feeling to be so superior to them. It feels great to be a Barcelona fan right now, and they (the Madrid players) must be feeling terrible."

Xavi is now favourite to win European Footballer of the Year next month and he added: "If I or Andres (Iniesta) win the award then it will be an award for the philosophy of this fantastic club and for the style of play that we have been practising for the last 30 years."

One man who will not be on Fifa's top table is Cristiano Ronaldo, who once again failed to score against the Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol combination. When Barca beat Almeria 8-0 last week Ronaldo was asked if he thought the win would affect the Clasico, to which he replied: "Let's see if they can score eight past us."

No one could have imagined how close they would come as they inflicted the heaviest defeat of Mourinho's career.

But he did not shirk fierce media scrutiny of the performance against Barcelona, acknowledging: "After such a bad match you must go right back to work, play and win."

Jorge Valdano, Real's general director, even intimated that so wrenching a loss could galvanise Mourinho's embryonic team, who on Monday had included five players under the age of 23 and four making their Clasico debuts. "It's a game that will help us understand football at the highest level and to continue maturing," he said.

But where Mourinho's stock sank, that of Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona head coach, only soared. To think, a mere three days earlier this most charismatic of managers had been linked to a job at Chelsea. It was impossible to conceive, as he bathed in the acclaim of an adoring crowd after his team's five-goal exhibition, how he could want to move anywhere else.

Sandro Rosell, the Barcelona president, is unlikely even to countenance the notion of Guardiola moving on, having savoured an evening in which any sense of normality was suspended. So lush and symphonic was Barcelona's orchestration of their Clasico triumph in that even their own supporters could barely believe it, having to be restrained by stewards as they sought to join their idols at the final whistle. For all of the 100,000 in attendance at a febrile Nou Camp, it had been a privilege.


Anyone wrapped in the blaugrana colours could feel glad to be a Catalan. Their regional elections on Sunday night, forcing the match to be delayed to a Monday, sharpened their sense of being separate. Twenty-four hours later, their ambassadors on the pitch inflicted such embarrassment on the Spanish aristocrats of Real Madrid that it made them feel superior, too.

So it was apt that football at its most flawless should, in the eyes of Barcelona players craving maximum bragging rights, yield the perfect scoreline. David Villa's smooth second goal, to put the Catalans four in front, stretched credulity but, for the 32 minutes that remained, his team-mates were beseeched to add an all-important fifth.

While 4-0 represented a rout, 5-0 signified in the Spanish vernacular the symbolic gesture of a manita, a little hand. It meant there was a goal for every finger, as 'Sport', that posterboard for Catalonia's sporting pride, made plain yesterday morning with a front cover adorned with little else besides a giant yellow hand.

It explained why, as disbelieving fans trooped back along Las Ramblas, so many thousands of hands were being raised in unison. It was, quite simply, a salute. (© Independent News Service)

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