The victory over Madrid in the clásico leaves Barcelona 12 points clear.
Ever since his fateful morning at Milanello some five years ago, Franck Kessié has been dubbed The President. However, his victorious moment came on Sunday night when he was exactly at the right place and time for La Liga glory. In the midst of ecstatic celebration at Camp Nou, the son of a soldier proudly saluted to the crowd as he had made his dream into reality.
The 258th clásico was to determine the fate of the league, with all eyes on the clock ticking down to 80.15. Tension and anticipation had been mounting when Marco Asensio scored to make it 2-1 in Real Madrid’s favour. As he showed allegiance to his club’s badge, Carlo Ancelotti clenched his fists while Xavi Hernández bitterly conceded that it was a cruel turn of events – even though it had been predictable. The goal reopened the title race, albeit not in FC Barcelona’s favour.
Replay footage showed Asensio was offside
And the VAR ruling at Las Rozas – where referees wear kit to sit in a small room filled with big screens – confirmed it. The Camp Nou erupted when Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea lifted his arm at 82.49, showing their relief as VAR ruled out the goal in the clásico. Although Barcelona entered with a nine-point lead, this display of Madrid’s power served as reminder of how vulnerable their position was; the game could swing either way now, both sides pushing forward. Asensio sent his shot high, Karim Benzema faced Andreas Christensen and Aurélien Tchouaméni ran into Ronald Araújo’s challenge.
There was a moment when a president delivered peace.
Well, not peace exactly. A Sergio Busquets pass sent Alejandro Balde into space. He exchanged passes with Robert Lewandowski, collecting a backheel and playing it across with it. Kessié shot into the net exactly as 91.00 rolled around, right in the perfect place, deep in the area. As the game progressed from six points to 12 points, the game was over.
Xavi the Barcelona players and staff had entranced. Getting closer pitch as they watched the move unfold. As it concluded in a goal, they began their sprints along the touchline and across the grass. Xavi was ecstatic. Celebrating his first clásico at Camp Nou as a coach; “Justice done with that goal”. He beamed afterwards. Amidst the commotion, Kessié performed his trademark ‘goggle celebration’, dodging Jordi Alba’s fast-approaching body before saluting to the sky in honour of his father who had passed away when Kessié was 11. In the midst of everyone going berserk, a spectacular slide tackle took out one of those involved whilst Kessié went over to embrace friends in the front row once celebrations had calmed down.
He had been
on the pitch for a mere 13 minutes when he scored the goal that all but sealed Barcelona’s title. With 12 points separating the two sides with 12 games to go, Courtois, watching the celebrations around him, admitted: “Yes [the title is over]. We have to be honest. Nothing is impossible, but there is a four-game gap now.” Though Ancelotti remained adamant in his efforts, it was basically game over; La Liga was a millimetre away. Henceforth their pursual would shift towards winning the Copa del Rey and European Cup.
The Barcelona players joined together in jubilation and headed towards the north stand. Where Gavi was a heroic lift on Alba’s shoulders. Sneaking underneath the stand, one could hear the boisterous cheers ringing through the air. Sport reported “Delirium!” while El Mundo Deportivo exclaimed “Ecstasy!” Busquets recognised its significance; “We are getting closer but we’re not there yet”. He wisely commented. Xavi had empathy with their loyal supporters who could heard singing ‘campeones’ from outside. Roberto posited that it is a lead that would be hard to relinquish. Whilst reflecting upon their remarkable night of football by noting “The result ended up being very impressive. We all wild with excitement; it seemed almost too good to true until Franck scored his goal – it tastes even better this way!”.
Sergi Roberto notched Barcelona’s
First goal in the absence of Pedri, Xavi picking him over Kessié to go alongside him. It was tight on Sunday night and yet, three weeks ago when they lost to Almería and Asensio had his ‘goal’, the result was already in the books: Barcelona leading Madrid by 13 points at the end of last season, three points when this clásico came around in October, now standing as a comfortable 12-point difference. Xavi aptly noted that “we don’t forget where we come from” for these stats signify rewarding dominance.
This season has been markedly distinct for Barcelona; the success achieved was unlike any that preceded it, a triumph arising from tumultuous waters. Madrid managed more shots on goal and scored a higher tally, yet their opener against them on Sunday was the first they had conceded at home from open play in over twelve months. Xavi’s team have let in two goals in total so far; a Joselu penalty and an unfortunate own goal. All season long they have allowed only nine strikes to pass them by, four of which came with direct involvement from Madrid. This latest title win, though enabled by different players and qualities than usual, proved more difficult and arduous than any other before it; nine of their last eleven victories have resulted from merely a solitary goal margin.
Pedri has been pivotal to success;
Although he is not known for his goals, he has scored the winning goal in four 1-0 victories. Unfortunately, he was absent due to injury for this game. Ousmane Dembélé, who Xavi took on against his own club in an effort to convert him as the focus of their attack – and it seems to have worked with five goals and five assists. Is also now injured and has only started 14 games. In his place, Raphinha has been a game changer with a number of assists plus scoring the only goal against Valencia and Athletic and the late winner at Osasuna. Lewandowski began strongly but hasn’t been as consistent since the World Cup, nonetheless, he is still top of the league’s scoring charts with two goals.
The indispensable Frenkie de Jong has been invaluable, especially in his hybrid role as an extra midfielder. With Christensen arriving via free transfer and Balde proving difficult to move on, Barcelona have excellent value for money players. Marc-André ter Stegen in goal continues to impress while Araújo’s indubitable defensive abilities have taken some time to seen. Unfortunately, those abilities didn’t help against Vinícius Júnior, which resulted in an own goal from Araújo. Thankfully, Sergi Roberto and Kessié were able to prevent any further goals from Madrid.
Two months ago
There were worries that Kessié and Xavi may not remain much longer. Kessié had to issue a denial in response to reports of his winter transfer. While Xavi was determined to get Sergi Roberto to renew his contract despite everyone else’s objections. “Sergi Roberto has been subjected to the most unwarranted criticism I during my career.” Xavi declared last month. “He personifies what B arcelona stands for: He gives it his all on the field, never complains and is an outstanding leader. His selflessness and understanding make him an ideal role model and I want him to stay here for many years.”