Where to begin?
I’m fairly positive I witnessed one of the greatest individual performances for generations in Barcelona’s 3-2 Clasico triumph over Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi’s virtuoso display transcends all limits of my vocabulary, but there were so many different facets of the momentous clash that made it so compelling.
Here’s a few pointers from my experience in Madrid at the biggest club game in the world…
Messi is king
The Argentine maestro may have put the GOAT debate well and truly to bed after a performance for the ages.
I found myself just watching him at times; his movement and ability to find space coupled with his range of positions meant he was too elusive for Real. Barcelona weren’t that good – Messi was just sensational.
I felt throughout that despite the way Messi dictated the game from his new, nuanced playmaker role, Cristiano Ronaldo would still have the final say. He blew his chance though when he uncharacteristically fired over after Marco Asensio’s cross.
It was Messi’s night and it was fitting that such a dramatic finale would bring up such an iconic milestone. 500 goals. 500! And so many have come at the Bernabeu.
Has any player in history ever made the home of their great rivals theirs so often?
Bale is person non grata
I was buoyed to hear Gareth Bale was starting after his recent injury hell, but in truth he was way off the pace.
The verdict on the Welshman among the Madrid fans prior to kick off was mainly positive, with many sympathetic to his injury record.
But once the game started that changed. He was well off the pace and evidently unfit, making the wrong decision on countless occasions.
In fact his performance was so abject his substitution, caused by yet another injury setback, was greeted by ironic cheers by the mercilessly critical home faithful. The boos and white hankies weren’t for Ronaldo on Sunday, they were for Bale.
In truth, Asensio offered more than the former Spurs man in five minutes than he did during the entire first half.
Entertainment at every angle
This was my first visit to the Bernabeu and it’s not one I’m likely to forget quickly.
While one of the best encounters I’ve ever seen was unfolding before my eyes on the pitch, there was a heck of a lot happening off it too.
Unlike during big English games, Real and Barca fans sat together in the stands in what seemed like perfect harmony initially.
That was until Sergio Ramos’ obscene tackle on Messi sparked a number of fights around me, including several arrests as punches were thrown.
I also couldn’t help but notice how Americanised the consumer experience has become. Popcorn was being sold by vendors throughout, there were selfie sticks everywhere and generally people were glued to their phones. One guy along the row from me appeared to film the entire 92 minutes as a Snapchat story.
Traditional English fans would be tearing their hair out.
Casemiro’s withdrawal changed the game
He might not grab all the headlines, but Casemiro’s importance to Real cannot be understated. He was the only home player who got close to halting Messi’s brilliance, legally or not.
When Zinedine Zidane chose to remove him halfway through the second half Real lost any sense of protection in front of a fragile-looking defensive line.
If Casemiro had remained on the pitch would he have been there to stop Messi’s last-gasp winner?
Who do the Real fans want next summer?
I chatted to a number of home fans prior to kick off and a few interesting pointers emerged about the Premier League and their transfer demands for the summer.
One fan, Rafa, feels Real’s next major splurge on English clubs shouldn’t be for Eden Hazard or Dele Alli, but for N’Golo Kante instead.
“Casemiro is a good player but he’s not good enough long-term for Real Madrid,” he said.
“Real needs a proper number five to develop the spine of the team.
“Kante at Chelsea is the best at the moment and he’s so similar to Makelele, who has never been replaced since he left Real.”
Another supporter, Eduardo, holds genuine hope that they’ll pull off the unthinkable and sign Antoine Griezmann from city rivals Atletico this summer.
He said: “We [Real] need a number nine.
“Lewandowski would be good but I have this feeling Griezmann could happen.
“He keeps refusing to deny the rumours about Real and you can tell something is up. He’d be the perfect acquisition.”
So what did I learn?
Well Real fans are the most animated and unpredictable supporter group on the planet, the future of the modern viewing experience is exciting and the fastest way to completely silence 80,000 people is a 92nd minute winner in their own home.
When do we get to do it all over again?