Gavi & De Jong BOSS El Clasico! Winners & Losers as Barcelona dominate in midfield to put away Real Madrid in season-defining victory

Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessie grabbed the goals as Barcelona's younger legs outran Real Madrid to earn a huge 2-1 victory in La Liga.

Real Madrid's midfield is not used to being outrun. But on Sunday night, the young legs of Barcelona's Gavi and Frenkie de Jong made the aging limbs of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos run out of steam. The Barca duo controlled things in and out of possession for the Blaugrana, pacing the side to a 2-1 comeback win that puts them on the brink of winning the 2022-23 La Liga title.

Madrid snagged the opener, much against the run of play. Vinicius Junior danced down the left side and floated a speculative cross off the head of Ronald Araujo and into the Barca net.

The Blaugrana spent the remainder of the first half in control of proceedings. De Jong was at the centre of it all, making driving runs forward and firing arrowed passes into the feet of Robert Lewandowski. The leveller eventually came moments before the interval, with Sergi Roberto capitalising on a series of deflections to lash the ball home from 10 yards out.

Carlo Ancelotti got a bit more fight out of some tiring legs in central midfield after the break, but Madrid seldom threatened. Instead, they were subject to a series of trips and bumps by an ever-active, often-irritating Gavi.

And when Madrid went all out for a winner in stoppage time, Barcelona took advantage. Alejandro Balde darted down the left before cutting the ball back across goal to a waiting Kessie, who couldn't miss.

By the end of it all, even the usually stoic Xavi was celebrating. He knows Barcelona have La Liga wrapped up.

GOAL breaks down the winners & losers from Camp Nou...

  1. WINNER: Frenkie de Jong

    WINNER: Frenkie de Jong

    Barcelona were close to selling De Jong to Manchester United last summer.

    After performances like this, they must be relieved that they didn't let him go. De Jong bossed the midfield for the Blaugrana, marking his best Clasico showing yet. This was always going to be a tricky one, with Madrid blending the experience of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric with the legs of Eduardo Camavinga.

    But De Jong made it look remarkably easy. He completed all but five of his passes, created five chances, and embarked on a series of meandering runs upfield to relieve pressure — just when Madrid appeared to be growing into the game. This is the player Barcelona thought they were getting four years ago. The good news for them is that he's finally arrived.

  2. LOSER: Karim Benzema

    LOSER: Karim Benzema

    In the 79th minute, Benzema latched onto a wayward pass from Jules Kounde. The France striker took two steps, before shooting towards goal. But he miscued his effort, sending it trickling into the arms of Marc-Ander ter Stegen.

    It was a shot that encapsulated his performance. Benzema had his share of opportunities here, getting into the right positions and tallying 48 touches. But his signature clinical finishing was nowhere to be found. Benzema had four shots on the day. Two were blocked and a further two were tamely hit.

    The reigning Ballon d'Or winner is 35 and has been admittedly less prolific in front of goal this year. But seeing him skew chances and show hesitation in the box is rather puzzling. His latest off-day might just have cost Madrid the title.

  3. WINNER: Gavi

    WINNER: Gavi

    Real Madrid fans abhor Gavi. Barcelona fans adore him.

    Today, it was easy to see why.

    The midfielder wasn't particularly classy against Real. He didn't create a single chance and didn't get into the box as much as Xavi perhaps would have liked.

    Instead, he spent nearly 90 minutes making life horrible for Madrid players. He shoved Dani Carvajal in the chest, bumped Dani Ceballos over, and got away with at least one yellow card offence. There was also one blatant dive, and a series of trips and shoves. It was a very un-Barcelona performance, a dirty-work showing that this team isn't used to.

    But in title fights, it's such performances that can make the difference. And the bumps, shoves, trips and kicks did just enough to throw Real off.

  4. LOSER: Carlo Ancelotti
    Getty Images

    LOSER: Carlo Ancelotti

    Will it be a trophyless season for Real Madrid?

    This loss saw La Liga slip away for good, while they face a 1-0 deficit to this Barca side in the Copa del Rey semi-final. And although the Madrid magic is very much a Champions League factor, they find themselves on the trickier side of the draw should they beat Chelsea in the last eight.

    And if so, who's to blame? Certainly, Los Blancos cannot be faulted for the improvement of Barcelona. But should they not have also developed enough as a side to fend off a team that hasn't quite reached its peak? The attention, then, should turn towards the manager.

    Ancelotti has been steadfast with his tactics this year, and Madrid haven't changed all that much from the side that won the double last season. That has served them well to a point. But teams have to evolve, managers have to find new ways of making their sides better. Today, Madrid were beaten by the better team, and Ancelotti was tactically defeated by a braver coach.

  5. WINNER: Xavi

    WINNER: Xavi

    The remit for every Barcelona manager is universal: win the league.

    Xavi, admittedly, was always going to be given a little more time. He took the helm when the club was in a dire financial state, with a squad well below the quality required to win la Liga. Although the club finances haven't necessarily improved, Xavi has been given the kind of team capable of topping the table. And today, the Barca legend might just have secured Spanish football's biggest trophy.

    He didn't change much from the system that has already beaten Madrid twice this year. But the inclusion of Sergi Roberto for extra legs, and the slightly more conservative placement of Sergio Busquets worked wonders as Barcelona nullified Madrid's midfield quality.

    The Blaugrana arguably made this closer than it needed to be. Xavi won't care. His revolution is now in full swing.

  6. LOSER: Toni Kroos

    LOSER: Toni Kroos

    Out with the old...

    Real Madrid's midfield unit was overrun on Sunday. Luka Modric was outmatched, Eduardo Camavinga couldn't cover enough ground. And Kroos was simply nowhere to be found.

    The German midfielder turned in one of his worst performances of the season on Sunday. He was caught out of position defensively and lacked adventure in attack. Although he completed every single one of his 36 passes, there's something to be said for ball progression — which was entirely missing from his game.

    Ancelotti suggested a few weeks ago that Modric and Kroos might be phased out of the side, and could even leave this summer. And with the likes of Jude Bellingham potentially available, it might not be too big of a loss if Kroos were to walk.