The year was 2005, and Barcelona were heading into the season as the defending champions with Frank Rijkaard in his third year at the helm of the Catalan club. The summer had brought considerable change in the playing staff, with some of the expensive "mistakes" left over from Gaspart’s era shown the door and only a few players being brought in. Santiago Ezquerro was signed on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao while Dutch enforcer Mark van Bommel was brought in from PSV. Oh, and some kid called Lionel Messi was promoted from the B team.
Barcelona headed into the match one point ahead of their great rivals, and considering the location of the match, were slight underdogs. Sure, Barcelona were the Champions, but just one look at the opposition showed that this was going to be a tough match. For the record, Vanderlei Luxemburgo was in charge of the Spaniards, and his team on that fateful night was Iker Casillas; Michel Salgado, Sergio Ramos, Ivan Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Pablo Garcia, David Beckham, Raul, Zinedine Zidane; Robinho, Ronaldo. I understand that this was the Galactico era, but if I can spot that Beckham simply cannot play as a holding midfielder and that a lack of width was irresponsible (suicidal?), then why couldn’t Luxemburgo? Either way, that 4-2-4 was up against the 4-3-3 of Victor Valdes; Oleguer, Edmilson, Carles Puyol, Gio Van Bronckhorst; Rafa Marquez, Xavi, Deco; Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o. Unbelievably, just two of Real’s squad from that season are still at the club to this day (Casillas and Ramos), while that number increases to five for FC Barcelona (Valdes, Puyol, Messi, Iniesta and Xavi). How things have changed since 2005.
Despite the start of the match being marred by a pitch invader, Barcelona got right down to business, and within 15 minutes they went ahead. The ball was played central to Lionel Messi who was just inside the Madrid half and characteristically, the Argentine went on a little adventure with the ball. For whatever reason, Roberto Carlos did not move central, meaning Messi could venture some 20-30 yards with the ball completely unopposed. Clearly, Real hadn’t got the memo; this teenager was not to be underestimated. He skipped past the desperate challenge of Ivan Helguera and in the process, the ball found its way to Samuel Eto’o. The Cameroonian maybe shouldn’t have "stole" the chance, but this was one occasion were I was glad he pulled rank on Messi. Turning beautifully he left two in his wake and toe-poked the ball past the challenge of Roberto Carlos and into the back of the net. Wheeling away to celebrate, Eto’o patted the badge on his chest; he may have been a player at Real once, but now his heart belonged to Barcelona. What a mistake by Perez. His team was not only behind, but had a mountain to climb.
Then, exactly 45 minutes after Eto’o had opened the scoring, Barcelona had their second and it was a goal that modern day Real would be proud off. After two attempts to swing the ball into the box from Michel Salgado and David Beckham, Madrid were made to pay for their dismal crossing as Barcelona executed a flawless counter-attack. The clearance was prodded forward by Deco and Ronaldinho was in possession, just inside his own half. However, he wasn’t waiting around. Ronaldinho skipped past Sergio Ramos, exposing his lack of experience and quite simply bamboozled Ivan Helguera with a swivel of the hips before firing past Casillas at his near post. Sublime stuff by the Brazilian.
Just 15 minutes later, he was at it again. Sergio Ramos was left in his wake once more. Nothing could stop Ronaldinho, much like we see in Messi today, once he gets going with the ball at his feet, defenders run scared, the world sits on edge. It’s a thrilling experience, and this performance was amongst the most dominant of any Barca player at the Bernabeu since Johan Cruyff masterminded a Manita victory back in 1974. The Real fans were applauding, partly in admiration for Ronaldinho’s exploits, but more to show their displeasure at Luxemburgo’s reign. A couple of weeks later, Luxemburgo was sacked and Barcelona went on to claim a historic League and Europen double. What strikes me is that even if we saw a similar master-class from let’s say Messi, would today’s Madrid fans applaud? El Clasico has certainly changed since 2005.