Los Blancos secured much-needed 3-1 triumph over Barcelona on Saturday
Real Madrid’s manager Zinedine Zidane has heaped praise on the squad after their emphatic 3-1 win over Barcelona in the first empty Clasico, landing an early blow in La Liga’s title race on Saturday.
Barca had the chance to inflict a third consecutive defeat on their rivals and increase the pressure on Zidane.
Instead, Madrid’s win earns them a six-point lead over the Catalans, having played one game more.
“They are only three points but we have to enjoy them, especially after everything that has been said about the squad,” said Zidane.
Sergio Ramos’ penalty and a late Luka Modric goal finished Barcelona off after Federico Valverde and Ansu Fati had traded early strikes in a compelling game that defied those expecting further evidence of two heavyweights in decline.
“You always have bad spells in a season and hopefully this one only lasted a week,” said Ramos. “To win in the home of your oldest rivals is always satisfying.”
Barcelona might feel hard done by, especially as Ramos’ penalty was awarded after a check by VAR and a hugely exaggerated fall by Madrid’s captain after Clement Lenglet tugged his shirt.
“Maybe one day you can explain how VAR works here in Spain,” said Ronald Koeman. “We’ve had five games in the league and VAR has only intervened against Barca.”
But aside from an impressive spell in the first half, when Lionel Messi threatened to win the game on his own, Madrid were dominant for longer spells and pulled away when it mattered.
This was Koeman’s first Clasico as Barcelona coach and some of the pressure Zidane would have felt from a loss is now transferred to the Dutchman, who has overseen only three wins from his first six games in charge.
Barcelona face Juventus on Wednesday in the Champions League, without the suspended Gerard Pique.
Every Barca set-back now reflects on the future of Messi, for whom this could even have been the last Clasico at Camp Nou. The Argentinian, who failed in his attempt to leave last summer, has still to score from open play this season.