MADRID: The future of Rafa Benitez as Real Madrid was thrown into question after the world club champions were thrashed 4-0 in front of their own fans by European and Spanish title-holders Barcelona in the Estadio Bernabeu.
Benitez, appointed to succeed Carlo Ancelotti only in the summer, had already come in from criticism from fans and players for his technical and tactical choices.
From the first minute to the last, a below-par Madrid side were defeated as a Luis Suarez brace and goals from Neymar and Andres Iniesta sealed Barca’s 10th Clasico victory from their previous 15 meetings.
To add insult to injury, substitute Isco’s rash challenge on Neymar saw a deflated Madrid side end the game with 10 men.
With an estimated global audience of 400 million, Luis Enrique’s side put on a performance fitting of the game’s box-office billing, dominating a below-par Real side who rarely threatened to test the La Liga leaders.
When Real did create chances, they were thwarted but the inspired Claudio Bravo, who single-handedly ensured Barca would left the Bernabeu with a clean sheet.
Lionel Messi’s return from two months out injured late on added extra satisfaction to a victory which saw Barca open up a six-point gap over Real at the summit of La Liga.
All the pre-match build-up concerned the return of Messi, although his long-awaited return was put on hold with Enrique keeping faith in Suarez and Neymar up front from the start.
After an end to end start, it proved to be the right decision as Barca took the lead on 11 minutes. Real were unable to deal with Sergi Roberto’s run from deep and his disguised pass fell for Suarez, who he made no mistake to curling the ball around Keylor Navas with a first-time finish.
The reccurrence of Javier Mascherano’s groin injury, and subsequent substitution, did little to deter Barca from the task at hand, as the continued to create chances.
Only a fine diving save from Navas prevented Neymar’s free-kick from making it two on 24 minutes before Roberto somehow missed target from eight yards shortly after.
Real were limited to shots in anger, with James Rodriguez calling Bravo into action with a long-range drive on 28 minutes, until the returning Karim Benzema spurned a glorious chance to level the game ten minutes later.
And it proved to be a costly miss as Neymar evaded Real’s offside trap, gathered Iniesta’s through ball and slotted the ball under Navas to double the visitors’ lead.
After the break, Real threatened to haul themselves back into contention as Marcelo rifled a shot into the side-netting before Bravo again proved unpassable, denying James’ low drive.
But Barca soon showed their class and had a third on 53 minutes when, having collected the ball in acres of space, Iniesta played a neat one-two with Neymar and drilled the ball high past Navas.
Thing then went from bad to worse for Real as Messi entered the fray and they were denied claims for a penalty as Gerard Pique’s handling of Gareth Bale’s cross went unpunished.
Messi and Neymar then combined brilliantly to set up Suarez for his second and Barca’s fourth on 74 minutes, with the Uruguayan staying composed to produce a delightful chipped finish over Navas.