Real Madrid 0
MADRID • At the beginning of the final Clasico of 2017, a huge banner was unfurled by Real Madrid supporters at the south end of the Santiago Bernabeu welcoming in a "White Christmas".
At the end of the match, it was the small handful of Barcelona fans high in the opposite stand who celebrated and they will be the ones who will be having happy holidays.
Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal scored in the 3-0 win that carried Barcelona nine points clear at the top of the LaLiga table, 14 ahead of their biggest rivals Real.
In August, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique admitted he felt "inferior" to Real; how quickly things change. By the close yesterday, his team's superiority was startling.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, however, preferred not to get carried away by the victory.
"We're both very even," he said.
"That is a lesson for all. In pre-season, they played very well and were better while we were better today.
"There are lots of ups and downs in football. It could also turn against us again."
When asked about his thoughts on the title race and his side's huge gap over Real, the Spaniard replied: "This is not half a league. We haven't even reached the halfway point of the league season.
PLENTY TO PLAY FOR
A lot lies ahead. We are some distance ahead, but that doesn't mean anything because nothing has been decided.
ERNESTO VALVERDE, Barcelona coach, downplaying his side's 14-point lead over their fiercest rivals.
"A lot lies ahead. We are some distance ahead, but that doesn't mean anything because nothing has been decided."
Yesterday's big clash was the 237th Clasico between the rivals and Barcelona have now notched their 93rd win, two behind Real.
The Catalans have also won three consecutive LaLiga away games against Real for the first time in history.
Apart from the two teams' longstanding football rivalry, it could be said that there was also an underlying tension between them in Spain's capital Madrid.
This follows the regional elections in Catalonia that saw three parties, favouring independence for the region from the rest of Spain, retain an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament.
On the pitch, it was an unusual early kick-off as Spain sought an Asian audience and, for a moment, the Bernabeu thought there had been an early goal too.
Only one minute had passed when Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo's header went in off the bar from a corner, but as it bounced down, he saw the assistant referee's flag raised for offside.
Following a tight first half, Suarez capitalised on wide open space in Real's midfield to score the opener in the 54th minute.
Messi hammered in the second goal from the penalty spot 10 minutes later, after Dani Carvajal was sent off for blocking a goal-bound header from Paulinho with his arm.
NEED TO TAKE STOCK AND REGROUP
It's a very difficult defeat to take, but we'll never give up. Now we'll go for our holidays and we won't think about it... it's not over.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Real Madrid coach, admitting the 0-3 loss was a bitter blow.
Vidal, who came on in stoppage time, hit the third to pile more misery on Real, who looked unrecognisable from the side that crushed Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup in August.
Messi has now scored more goals (17) against Real than any other player in LaLiga history.
The Argentinian hotshot is also the top scorer in Clasico history in all competitions with 25 goals.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane said that the defeat was a bitter pill to swallow but he would not concede that the title race was over.
"How we're feeling after a 3-0 defeat? Bad," the Frenchman said. "We started very well, the first half was even and it's a defeat that hurts.
"We defended badly in the second half and at this level, they're differences between winning and losing.
"Still, we're not going to go crazy. It's a very difficult defeat to take, but we'll never give up.
"Now we'll go for our holidays and we won't think about it. We'll enjoy the time we have with our families and come back.
"It's not over."
Vidal had been on the pitch less than a minute when he scored the last goal of the game before the final whistle blew.
It was over. The Clasico, and maybe the league too.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS