But how did Ernesto Valverde outwit Zinedine Zidane? Here is a look at the tactics and decisions that allowed Barcelona to wrap up the title before Christmas.
A Clasico inspired by the Premier League
For so many years, England has been seen as the home of 4-4-2. Spanish sides have primarily played in a 4-3-3.
Now the formations have flipped. Manchester City, flying high at the top of the Premier League, are playing a classic Pep Guardiola 4-3-3. Barcelona have taken the Mike Bassett approach.
On Saturday the two teams lined up in variations of 4-4-2. Barca had the flat midfield four. Real played a diamond. And both teams absolutely stacked the middle of the park with central midfielders.
That created this ludicrously congested space where neither team could break down the other or win any sort of battle in there. It meant the entire first-half was a near write off in terms of entertainment.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema played as the hosts’ front two. They floated wide, especially Ronaldo, which should have opened up space for their No 10. The problem was that Luka Modric was picked for that role, a player far more suited to playing deep.
And, ultimately, it caused huge defensive problems for Real.
Full-backs charge… and get caught out
Because Real’s midfield was so narrow, it meant their full-backs had to get forward.
Dani Carvajal and Marcelo are both excellent attack-minded players but their desire to get forward left huge space at the back.
That would not have been a problem if it were not for the way Barcelona defended.
It was strange to see their defence, in the main, play as a rigid, solid back four. Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba stuck to their positions as much as possible. The only time this really changed was on the counter.
That meant there was no space for Real’s flying defenders.
And when Barca broke, there was tons of room. That is where the first goal came from. Barca broke courtesy of a pair of lovely passes, first from Sergio Busquets and then Ivan Rakitic.
Rakitic’s ball took Real’s centre backs out of the game.
Luis Suarez had no one marking him as Carvajal was so far up the field. He ghosted in, met Roberto’s low cross and scored.
It was a simple finish but it was made so much easier by Real’s defending.
Barca countering the counter
On the other hand, Barcelona were fantastic at stopping Real from countering.
Whenever a set piece broke down their defenders got back into their positions and reformed that solid four man back line. The midfield were equally disciplined.
It meant Real, a team who can be ruthless on the break, had no real opportunities to do so.
Pique steps it up
Prior to the start of the season, Gerard Pique admitted it was the first time he’d felt inferior to Real since he moved to Barcelona.
On Saturday it seemed as though he was on a one man mission to rectify that.
Despite the problems, Real did get into a few decent crossing positions in the first-half. Pique was always there to head the ball away. He made eight clearances, a staggering figure.
He also put in a few important tackles. Most notably, he was so good it made us forget Thomas Vermaelen was playing in a Clasico.
It really was a Pique blinder.
Man marking Messi
Mateo Kovacic has not had the most involved season for Real. The Croatian had only played three La Liga games before Saturday. He did, however, start both legs of their Spanish Super Cup win against Barca.
And after the match, Valverde admitted he had been troubled by his selection: ‘Kovacic played really well in both games of the Supercopa and is a great player. So I am scared about the quality of the players and he is a great player.’
He seemed to be tasked with the same job at the Bernabeu as he was in those two Super Cup games – mainly, to man mark Messi.
But that caused problems for Real. He was playing in the centre of the diamond, which meant a huge gap Barca could exploit if Kovacic got dragged away following the diminutive Argentinian.
And they did for the opener. It was into that berth vacated by Kovacic that Rakitic drove with the ball before playing it to Sergi Roberto.
It’s conceptually okay to man mark Messi, but his constant movement, especially playing in a front two, means it was a mistake to have Kovacic in that role.
How to kill a game, Barcelona style
The second goal was a death knell for Real but what Barca did next confirmed the victory.
Zidane threw on Nacho to tighten up his defence. He then waited a minute before deciding to throw on Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio.
He didn’t get the chance to for the next five minutes. Whatever Valverde’s side did, they made sure the ball did not go out of play and that they did not give away a free-kick. There was tons of recycling of possession. Tame five yard passes.
And most importantly, no opportunity for the fourth official to lift up his board. Any boost Real might have gained from throwing on the Wales international and the young dynamo was nullified. The ball simply did not leave the pitch.
By the time they came on, there was only 10 minutes left on the clock and barely enough time to turn it around.
If Pique stepped it up for the Clasico, Varane did the opposite.
He failed to win a single take, made no interceptions and struggle to handle Barca’s runs all match.
Admittedly, he was abandoned by Carvajal to his right, but there was a reason the forwards kept placing themselves on his shoulder.
That was Suarez’s run for the first. And for the second. There was clearly a weakness to be exploited there.