That they did so was largely thanks to Casemiro, the agility of Keylor Navas and a shocking miss by Luis Suarez. Yet Madrid had been better than in other games against top teams this term – and they grew in stature in the second half.
When Gerard Pique headed home to give Barca the lead, it looked like the home side would go on to win the match. But a remarkable run by Marcelo set up Toni Kroos, whose deflected cross was acrobatically netted by Benzema, and Madrid were back in it. Deservedly so.
A Sergio Ramos red card (which could have arrived much earlier in the night) then seemed certain to give Barca the edge in the closing stages. But instead, Real remained on top and were unfortunate to see a Bale header ruled out for a supposed foul on Jordi Alba. The Welshman, however, had jumped cleanly and the goal should have stood.
Not that it mattered, though, because Bale then set up Ronaldo for the winner to stun a Camp Nou crowd convinced they would win on a night in which the Catalan club had paid homage to Johan Cruyff with a magnificent mosaic before the game.
This was a night upon which to remember the Dutch legend. But it was also a night for Real Madrid to savour and, in particular, Zidane.
“I’m very happy about everything, not just the result,” Zidane said after the game. “I’m proud of the players and what they achieved. I’m happy about the victory and what we saw in the match. It’s three points and it’s a Clasico. It’s better to win.”
Absolutely. And it is a result that shows two things: that Zidane is a definite upgrade on Rafa Benitez, and that he is the right man to take the club forward.
With Bale, Benzema and Cristiano on form and outshining Barca’s MSN trident, Real Madrid are back in business. And suddenly, the future seems brighter for Los Blancos – whatever happens in the remainder of this season