Only if Barcelona thinking that they too had some life left in this game, Rodrigo drew his knife. Down 2-1 and heading into the final minute chasing an equalizer that had seemed so improbable for so long, Javi Hernandez’s side were once again caught complicit in their own demise, as they had been all day. First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde appeared to be over so early, Madrid eased to victory until Ferran Torres’ strike five minutes from time gave the Catalans a chance only for Eric Garcia to tackle.
His trip on Rodrigo should have been reviewed by VAR, but the referee, Sánchez Martinez, pointed to the spot from where the Brazilian brought the ball a classic to the end. It was finished with a Real Madrid a victory that was no real surprise; it was a surprise that it had gotten to the point where it was questionable. In the last minutes here, at least, the Barcelona team appeared, which for a long time looked defeated. He also saw the nerves from the home fans, who spent most of this match sitting comfortably.
Madrid never seemed to rush, but were in front early. Toni Kroos moved from deep. Not quite a sprint, but fast enough – not least because Sergio Busquets was chasing him. Trailing, unable to get ahead, the Barcelona captain held on to Kroos, pulling him in an attempt to drag him to the ground before he released Vinicius Jr. He did not succeed. Vinicius was free, in the vast space behind Sergi Roberto. He went all the way into the area where Marc Andre ter Stegen came out quickly, sprawling wide to save the ball and the ball ran free. Four Barcelona defenders arrived; Karim Benzema beat them all.
It looked easy, and not for the last time. At that stage, Barcelona couldn’t get the ball as often as they would have liked – you suspected that as often as Madrid would have liked them to get it, the plan was to draw them in and then run past.
When they started, it didn’t seem like much of a threat either. One long move for 20 minutes offered a portrait. Barcelona kept possession, playing the ball around, but doing so a bit timidly, with no real intent. Madrid jumped in and waited. They even went. Barcelona advanced to a point, then turned around and went back again. Madrid looked at them again, standing there as if to ask: Is this all you have?
Yes, it would seem quite a lot. A neat move down the right, Pedri finding Rafinha, ended with Robert Lewandowski slipping to the far post and somehow tipping the ball over the crossbar from a yard out. Soon, a swift transfer from the Pole beat Roberto. But mostly the ball moved slowly and endlessly. Pedri turned to see that no one was moving, seats that should have been occupied, a teammate running into them, just lying there empty. There was no wit, no cut, no foresight. Just vulnerability.
If Barcelona were closer to Madrid’s target, it was exactly where Madrid wanted her. And then came the second one. It all started with Benzema’s neat footwork and continued with a cut ball forward. Garcia jumped back to clear – probably the intention – but only steered it towards his target. Vinicius, according to the plan, ran into the space behind, and the others ran to him. He rolled it under the pins to Arelena Chuameni, who laid it to Ferland Mendy. Mendy brought it back to Fede Valverde, who was on the edge of the area, but there was no one there to trouble him.
From there he was able to treat that kick as a penalty, taking his time, picking his corner and driving hard and low on the sideline past Ter Stegen.
Almost from the start, Frankie de Jong ran all the way, only to be denied by Andrei Lunin, but if that could have woken up Barcelona, and as Lewandowski ran, offered himself and begged for the ball, he became even more frustrated. Madrid, meanwhile, were comfortable knowing they didn’t really need more. They could have done without the linesman’s flag going up when Benzema thought he had made it three. Again, it was pretty simple: Vinicius’ diagonal into space, leaving the Frenchman free to go inside and bend into the corner.
If there was a flaw in Madrid, perhaps it was that they did not come up with more against an opponent, an opponent who is not their equal and could do more damage. Still, they enjoyed themselves oilhow they played the ball for an hour and maybe it could have hurt Barcelona more. Kroos was in control early on; Luka Modric was now sliding, outshining those around him. As the game wore on, there was a sense of a team that thought they had already won this and just wanted it to end now, unscathed.
And that may have been a risk. For Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele continued to run, but mostly struggled. And when Lewandowski narrowly missed the ball and headed home, all he could hear were ironic screams from the Bernabeu as Lunin just caught the ball. Shortly after he took a free-kick that could have been better in the 20th minute, but the ball hit the wall. He then thought he should have been awarded a penalty when Dani Carvajal brought him down in the area, but the referee said no.
Soon there was something: Chuameni stepped in to stop the Pole and Ansu Fati shot wide. His introduction, like that of Gavi and Torres, at least caused some reaction, some riot. Gavi, in particular. His challenge – and he seemed to make them alone – pushed Fati down the left, slipped past Valverde and into the box. His cross eluded Lewandowski but Torres was there for a finish that few expected but ended up being the winner everyone had.