Barcelona and Real Madrid have reasons to celebrate

"Let the party continue," smiled Luis Enrique, Barcelona’s head coach, freshly handed his Club World Champion gold medal. Happy? Of course he was.

"A little tired after so many days away and keen to get home and spend Christmas with my family, but I see how much my players are enjoying themselves and that makes me optimistic."

His European champions had just stylishly beaten River Plate, of Argentina, the South American club champions in Yokohama, Japan, 3-0, to end 2015 as owners of the Fifa Club World Cup, a fifth major title of Barcelona’s glorious calendar year.

The party continued eight time zones away, at the home of the 2014 Club World Cup holders, Real Madrid.

The afternoon began with what is now a familiar sound at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium: Opprobrium, whistling and jeering from spectators towards the president, Florentino Perez, and the head coach, Rafa Benitez.

Barca had left for Japan top of La Liga and, in spite of having to postpone their 16th league fixture to fulfill their responsibilities in the Far East, clear enough ahead of Madrid to know they would return after the brief winter break above their fiercest rivals even having played one match fewer.  

Eleven minutes into Madrid versus Rayo Vallecano, Rayo were leading 2-1 at the Bernabeu after a helter-skelter opening. But what happened next in Madrid was surreal. Rayo, whose attacking courage and reluctance to bow to any opponent is an appealing characteristic but can look a foolhardy one at times, had a man, Tito, sent off after quarter of hour. Their ten men, against Madrid’s multi-talented 11 was never likely to be a just contest, and Madrid very quickly equalized through Gareth Bale.

Two-two then became 3-2 to Benitez’s men before the match was half an hour old. Quite a party, if you like seeing an average of one goal every six minutes. But it was an unsatisfactory contest by then. Rayo had received a second red card, thanks to a second caution for Baena, who was not alone in feeling that his perceived offense deserved far less a punishment than the double jeopardy of a dismissal and a penalty in Madrid’s favor. His tangle with Sergio Ramos inside the Rayo penalty area appeared too light to count as illegal. No matter, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the spot-kick.

Then the party really started for the home side. Superior in numbers, with an hour left to exhaust and stretch their guests, Madrid built up the most humilliating scoreline in a Liga match for more than half a century. The last time any Spanish team had reached 10 goals in a league game was when Real Madrid still had Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskas doing the bullying. They beat Elche 11-2 in a 1960 Liga meeting. Fifty-five years later, they reached double figures against frayed and embittered opposition. Madrid’s trio of strikers, the so-called BBC – B for Bale, B for Benzema, C for Cristiano – had by the end become the BBBBBBBCC, four goals for Bale, three for Benzema, two for Cristiano. Danilo, the full-back, had registered the first after two minutes, when the match could still be called a contest, and when Rayo still had the resources and the fight to then take the lead.

It was hard not to feel for Paco Jemez, the Rayo coach. Angry with referee Iglesias Villanueva, he said: "La Liga lost credibility today." The extent to which Benitez and Madrid gained back some of their waning credit with fans, a week after losing at Villarreal, and amid fervent speculation over a change of coach at the Bernabeu, was limited, despite the record scoreline. Madrid’s attacking players partied, for sure, but in a scenario stripped of competitive conditions.

By the end of Sunday evening, Barcelona’s party really had taken off, just as their airplane was making its way out of Japan. The key result for the defending Spanish, European and now World Club Cup champions of the weekend was not so much Madrid’s eight-goal victory, but the one that kept Barca top of La Liga for Christmas: Malaga 1, Atletico Madrid 0.

Atletico had needed a point to move above Barcelona in the table. They had won nine games in succession before their trip to Andalucia; they faced a Malaga in the relegation zone. And Atletico lost, 1-0, with four minutes left of the 90; they had had their captain, Gabi, sent off for handball in the second half. Malaga’s goal will probably be attributed as an own goal to Atletico’s Diego Godin, who deflected the ball past Jan Oblak, his goalkeeper. If that all sounds unlucky for Atletico, they were seldom the stronger team at Malaga. They certainly did not look like they should be leaders of Liga on the day when Barcelona conquered the world and Real Madrid scored 10 times in 87 minutes.