Those who complain about the ubiquity of El Clásico wouldn't have much to complain about if every edition of the rivalry was as good as the one played on Sunday evening. Real Madrid and Barcelona put on a show, with the Blaugrana eventually pulling out the minor upset, winning 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The game produced plenty of points of discussion going forward, but here are four things in particular that stood out.
Madrid might have been a bit arrogant
Jose Mourinho didn't set up his Real Madrid teams in a rigid, counter-attacking system in Clásicos because he didn't have good players. He did it because Barcelona don't defend counters that well, and because Lionel Messi is arguably the best player to ever play the game. While Pep Guardiola and his disciples got the better of Jose over the course of his Madrid tenure, his general approach was not without merits. He won a La Liga title and a Copa del Rey for a reason.
This year's edition of Real Madrid appears to be much better than last year's, with Gareth Bale proving to be a brilliant addition and Luka Modric actually in form. But Madrid came out to overpower and outscore Barcelona on Sunday, which proved to be a less than brilliant strategy. They got picked apart for the first two goals and Barcelona's two penalties were earned. Carlo Ancelotti thought he could beat Barca in a wide-open track meet and he was wrong.
A fit Lionel Messi is pretty great
Cristiano Ronaldo deservedly won the 2013 Ballon d'Or, outperforming Lionel Messi in a year where the Barcelona No. 10 was injured and off his game. But Messi appears to have finally recovered from his hamstring problems and now looks like the best version of himself. He was very good in the Champions League win against Manchester City and last week's Osasuna game, and he stepped his game up to the highest level he can perform at in El Clásico.
Two of his goals were penalties -- neither of which he won himself -- so Messi's hat trick isn't why he was dominant. Instead, it was everything else. His assist for Andres Iniesta's opener was brilliant, his setup for Neymar was better than his finish on his open play goal and his movement off the ball was brilliant throughout the game. Perhaps Ancelotti set his team up the way he did because he expected to see the 2013 edition of Messi. Instead, Madrid had to face the best version of him.
Karim Benzema's workrate was as important as his finishing
When Karim Benzema sat out of the second leg of Madrid's Champions League tie against Schalke, many wondered if he was going to be fit enough for this match. And, again, those concerns popped up when he missed a great chance in the opening minutes. But he squashed those questions between Iniesta's goal and the red card to Sergio Ramos, scoring two great goals while proving vital to both keeping possession and starting counters for Madrid.
Benzema regularly dropped deep to find the ball, battling with Barcelona's midfielders as often as their central defenders. And, on multiple occasions, he backed down his man in his own half and played perfect passes out to the wings for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Madrid may have lost the game, but Benzema was the reason they took the lead in the first place, for reasons beyond his finishing.
That was the best game of the season, anywhere
Seven goals, lead changes, a red card and a late winner. Can you really ask for anything else?