In a tense Spanish Supercopa match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Real Madrid defeated Barcelona in extra time.
Carlo Ancelotti's side took the lead through Vinicius Junior, who was aided by strike partner Karim Benzema, midway through the first half, but a rather fortuitous Luuk de Jong equaliser leveled the score at halftime.
Barca had recovered from a worryingly open start, but Madrid pushed through the gears around the hour mark, and Benzema restored Madrid's lead minutes after being denied by the post.
Ansu Fati, a teenager who had returned from injury as a substitute, knocked in a late equaliser from Jordi Alba's cross to force extra time, but Fede Valverde scored Madrid's third and crucial goal after another counter-attack from Ancelotti's side.
Xavi's first El Clasico as Barca manager ended in defeat, but there were some positives to take away from his team's performance.
This was the first competitive El Clasico match ever held outside of Spain, with the winner receiving a weekend final match against the winners of Atletico Madrid's semi-final match versus Real Sociedad.
Vinicius and Benzema are in a different league ""
There is no question about who has been Spain's top two players this season, but there is discussion about whether those two players are the best attacking combo in the world.
Yes, Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema both scored for Real Madrid against their old adversaries, with both displaying the class and decisiveness that is sorely lacking in this current Barcelona team.
After being aided by his strike partner, Vinicius opened the scoring before the Frenchman restored the advantage in the second half, minutes after being denied by the post.
They have combined for 38 goals for Los Blancos this season, and they look destined to lead Real Madrid to domestic glory – and potentially European success as well.
Ansu Fati is the real deal
Ansu Fati has been a key member of Barcelona's first-team squad for the past two and a half years, but it's easy to forget that he's still only 19 years old.
Injury issues have stymied his growth in recent months; he hasn't started a game since November 6th, and has only been named to four starting lineups since suffering a significant knee injury in November 2020.
He made an immediate impression when he floated into the penalty area unmarked to head home Jordi Alba's cross in Riyadh, despite looking visibly rusty.
While Barca were ultimately defeated in extra time, the return of their teenage prodigy – along with fellow youngster Pedri – is a welcome boost for the second half of the season.
De Jong steps up again
Luuk de Jong has unavoidably drawn criticism since being promoted to the starting lineup at Barcelona, a club whose demands are much above the Dutchman's natural level.
Despite this, he has a propensity of scoring in key games; during his time at Sevilla, he scored multiple league goals against Barcelona, Real Madrid, and in the Seville derby against Real Betis, as well as scoring twice in the Europa League final win against Inter two years ago.
He put Thibaut Courtois into saves with his headers on Wednesday before scoring a lucky goal after sneaking in to a position where Real Madrid defender Eder Militao's clearance deflected into the net off the Dutch striker.
De Jong, who was signed by Ronald Koeman and has since scored three goals in three games under Xavi, may have limits, but Barca are now capitalizing on his talents.
Dembele adds chaos to Barca structure
A agile, quick-footed forward capable of going either side, taking on an opponent or delivering a cross, and frequently proving crucial in the final third.
Dembele can irritate Barca fans with his bad decision-making and lack of composure, but these characteristics are crucial for the team's offense, and he will be a loss if he leaves this summer when his contract ends.
Barca showing their age
Dani Alves had his first El Clasico appearance in six years, when he was on the verge of celebrating his 33rd birthday, and his age is clearly showing now.
In May, the Brazilian will turn 39, while Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba will be 35 and 33, respectively, and Sergio Busquets will turn 34 in July.
Barca are not dissimilar to Europe's current great sides in many ways, but their lack of energy and susceptibility when losing possession are significant flaws.
Benzema robbed Busquets of the ball in the build-up to Madrid's opening goal, and Barca's high line caused plenty of issues for their aging defenders throughout.
While players like Pedri, Nico Gonzalez, Gavi, and Ansu Fati give Barca hope for the future, replacing their aging back-line must undoubtedly be a priority.