Alexis Sanchez scored a brilliant winner as Barcelona won the first Clásico of the season. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)
Three thoughts on a back-and-forth edition of the Clásico, which saw Barcelona defeat their bitter rivals Real Madrid 2-1 at the Nou Camp:
1) Real Madrid deserved a draw, at least. Make no mistake, Barcelona put forth an admirable, balanced performance. They attacked with abandon in the first half, got a goal from Neymar in the 19th minute, and did well to repel wave after wave of Real Madrid attacks in the second stanza. But luck and questionable officiating conspired to deny Madrid a pair of golden goal-scoring opportunities in two second-half minutes.
First, Cristiano Ronaldo should have been awarded a penalty kick after Javier Macherano shoved him down in the box.
Then mere seconds later Karim Benzema rattled the woodwork with a blistering shot from distance that had Barça goalkeeper Victor Valdes beaten.
Had that shot been just an inch lower, or had the officiating crew made the correct decision against Mascherano, Real Madrid could have tied the score at one and anything could have happened thereafter. As it was, Alexis Sanchez doubled Barcelona's advantage just a few minutes after Madrid's fateful spell, and Jesé's late finish served only as a consolation for Madrid.
2) Barça buys better. With both teams having splashed the cash on major offseason acquisitions, to some Saturday's Clásico may have also doubled as a referendum on those moves. And while Gareth Bale and Neymar both started the game for their respective teams in similar positions, that proved to be the only similarity between the two.
While Neymar was consistently dangerous and inventive in wide areas, Bale struggled to get into the rhythm of the game and was too quick to try one of his signature long-range shots (each of which sailed harmlessly over the crossbar). Neymar completed 79 percent of his passes, while Bale connected on a mere 57 percent of his. Neymar was subbed off late to Camp Nou applause. Bale was removed in favor of Benzema 15 minutes into the second half, and Los Merengues looked far more dangerous thereafter. Now seems like a good time to revisit the price paid for each. Neymar cost €57 million. Bale, nearly twice that.
3) Neymar's goal wasn't beautiful, but Sanchez's sure was. Neymar's finish wasn't a typically smooth Barcelona goal. In fact, the Brazilian got a little lucky that his close-range effort at a tough angle deflected off a Madrid defender's leg, catching goalkeeper Diego Lopez off guard as it rolled into the back of the net.
Sanchez's, though, was something special.
Probably not the best positioning by Lopez, but the skill required to get that ball under control, bamboozle Raphael Varane, and chip that effort exactly between the crossbar and the goalkeeper is great enough to make this a Clásico goal to remember.