Neymar scored in his first Clasico and set up Alexis Sanchez for an exquisite decider as Barcelona beat fierce rivals Real Madrid 2-1 at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
With Lionel Messi oddly quiet, Neymar opened in the 19th minute from close range after receiving Andres Iniesta’s pass as the Brazil striker outshone fellow newcomer and adversary Gareth Bale.
“Scoring a goal in a Clasico is very special,” Neymar said. “It’s a game that everyone wants to play. It was like a dream come true.”
While Neymar has lived up to his 57 million euro (US$78.6 million) transfer this summer, questions over the wisdom of Madrid’s 100 million euro payout for Bale will continue after he failed to produce a shot on goal before being replaced by Karim Benzema with half an hour to go.
Benzema went on to hit the woodwork as Real threatened to equalize before Alexis took Neymar’s pass and sealed the victory in the 78th with a brilliant chipped shot.
Substitute Jese Rodriguez got Real’s consolation goal in injury-time after a lightning counterattack.
Neymar followed in the footsteps of former Brazilian standouts Romario and Rivaldo, who scored in their first matches for the Catalan club against Madrid, and his playmaking echoed Ronaldinho’s assist in his first Clasico.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino, also making his Clasico debut, was careful not to overpraise Neymar, while also giving credit to Messi for his work in defense.
“The transcendence of this game and the goal he scored magnified the level of his performance,” Martino said about Neymar. “But I think he has had better games than tonight. As far as what [Messi] did for the team to recover the ball, I give him a superlative mark.”
In other La Liga games, RC Celta de Vigo broke a four-game losing streak with a 5-0 rout of Malaga, while UD Levante rolled to a 3-0 win at home over RCD Espanyol and Granada won 1-0 against Elche.
Real have improved in their recent visits to Camp Nou, including a 3-1 win in the Copa del Rey in February last year, but Barcelona restored their home dominance over their rivals for the league crown.
The victory was Barcelona’s ninth to go with one lone draw in La Liga this season, lifting them a provisional four points clear of Atletico Madrid, who were to host Real Betis yesterday.
Real were left a full six points adrift of the pacesetters and with renewed doubts over the direction of the team under new manager Carlo Ancelotti after losses to both of their league challengers — Los Blancos lost 1-0 to Atletico last month.
“I think we showed good football in front of a fantastic team,” Ancelotti said after his first Clasico.
Bale made his second start of the season since being hampered by muscle injuries, but did not prove to be effective in attack with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ancelotti further tweaked his starting 11 with Sergio Ramos in midfield, while Martino chose Cesc Fabregas to accompany Messi and Neymar in attack.
Neymar struck the ball into the arms of Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the game’s first shot on goal in the 17th.
Two minutes later, Iniesta dribbled into the area and laid off for Neymar on the left flank. Real seemed to have him hemmed in, but he used his right foot to slip a shot between the legs of Dani Carvajal, with the ball taking a deflection off the defender’s thigh before going into the net.