Barcelona’s four points clear in Spain, but the gap in quality is even larger

Real Madrid went to the Camp Nou one point back of Barcelona in La Liga, and it put in a good 90 minutes. Its defense was generally strong, Luka Modrić kept the tempo in control through the midfield, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were threatening up front. Carlo Ancelotti’s men did what they wanted to do.

And yet the Merengues headback to Madrid losers, four points back in the league and looking like they have no chance of catching their Catalan rivals. At this point, it’s tough to see Real Madrid climbing back into the title race.

Barcelona was otherworldly. The scoreboard, at 2-1, was exceedingly nice to the visitors and didn’t convey just how good La Blaugrana were. Luis Enrique’s men were dominant in every phase, making a good Real Madrid team look pedestrian.

Jeremy Mathieu was strong, helping quiet those who questioned Barcelona’s decision to buy him in the summer. Jordi Alba and Dani Alves showed more disciplined and restraint than usual, helping Mathieu with a more defensive look than you normally get from La Blaugrana. Toss in Javier Mascherano, who reminded us yet again that he is a masterful defensive midfielder when he gets the chance, and there was rarely a way through for Real Madrid, especially in the second half.

Barcelona even proved capable of playing at a higher tempo than it normally likes. Modrić ensured that Real Madrid was playing at its preferred pace and Barcelona didn’t get the control it usually does, but La Blaugrana still transitioned exceptionally to feed its front three. And what it mattered, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez that were downright deadly.

467283482If there’s a criticism of Barcelona, it’s that the team was too sloppy in front of goal. Messi missed a chance he usually converts, Neymar was horrific when tasked with finishing, and Suárez got lost in the box at times. Surprisingly, the problem for Barcelona was its three-headed monster, one that kept it from winning by three or four goals. But when Messi, Neymar and Suárez are the problem, your team’s impossibly good.

Frighteningly, this type of performance has become the norm for Barcelona. It’s won its last seven matches and 18 of its last 19. It hasn’t mattered if Barça’s playing Real Madrid in La Liga, Atletico Marid in the Copa Del Rey, or Manchester City in the Champions League. They’ve all gone down, and decisively so. Barcelona has taken the crown of Best Team in the World.

That dominance has taken Barcelona from trailing in La Liga’s title race to four points clear, and the table doesn’t do the gap in quality justice. Barça may only be four points up, but it feels like 10, and at this point it’s nearly impossible to imagine Real Madrid catching them.

Where are Barcelona going to drop points? They could away to Sevilla. Maybe at home to Valencia, or even away to Atlético, but all of that takes a bit of imagination. Barcelona is better than all three of those teams, and considerably so. Meanwhile Real Madrid also has to play Sevilla away and Valencia at home. The only major difference is Barcelona have to take on the other Madrid side, and they’re doing it as a better team with a a nice cushion.

So how is Real Madrid getting back into the title race? It’s going to take a lot of luck. You know, the luck they had on Sunday, that kept them from losing by a handful of goals. But then again, even that wasn’t enough to earn them a point, just like no reasonable amount of luck can win them the league. Barcelona is a machine, and on Sunday, the team made it abundantly clear who rules Spanish soccer.

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