MADRID (AP) — Barcelona’s players had just returned to the locker room when Gerard Piqué put out a message on Twitter.
“We are back,” it read.
Piqué and his teammates had stayed on the field at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium celebrating the team’s commanding 4-0 victory over Real Madrid in the Spanish league. They jumped and sang along with the few hundred visiting fans still left at the mostly empty venue.
Inside, coach Xavi Hernández waited to embrace each player as they returned.
“Vamos, vamos! (Let’s go!),” was the common exchange.
It was the type of statement Barcelona needed in a difficult rebuilding year following the departure of Lionel Messi and the collapse of its finances.
The rout on the road against the team’s biggest rival — which had been comfortably leading the Spanish league and had just eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League — reassured Barcelona that it’s on the right path.
“This can change the dynamic of the present and the future,” Xavi said. “We hadn’t been having many reasons to celebrate in the recent past and today we made a statement. You can say we are on our way back. We competed against Real Madrid in their stadium and could have won by more goals. It was spectacular.”
Barcelona has finally found its stride after a slow start to the season, which included being eliminated from the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup.
Xavi revamped Barcelona’s offense and it has thrived recently with a more vertical attacking style that damages opponents with quick and efficient bursts.
The club has outscored opponents 24-5 in its last eight matches in all competitions thanks in part to new signings Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres. Aubameyang scored twice and Ferran added another Sunday to take their combined tally to 15 goals since joining the club this year.
“I think this is the beginning of a new era,” said the 32-year-old Aubameyang, who was signed as a free agent after losing space at Arsenal.
Shortly after the match, he went on Twitter and posted the message: “Hello from the finished player.”
Ronald Araujo scored the other Barcelona goal against Madrid, which had won the last five consecutive “clásicos.”
“This reinforces our project, reinforces our style, reinforces me as a new coach” Xavi said. “There is no doubt this is how Barcelona has to compete.”
Xavi neutralized Madrid after counterpart Carlo Ancelotti tried to use Luka Modric as a false-nine to replace the injured Karim Benzema, Madrid’s top player this season and the league’s scoring leader.
“We were able to play well behind the lines when their midfielders moved up and that allowed us to create many scoring chances,” Xavi said. “This victory gives us great confidence to keep working hard. We showed ourselves that we can compete against anyone.”
Ancelotti took the blame for the loss, saying his tactics were wrong. He tried to use Mariano Díaz up front in the second half but it also didn’t work. Eden Hazard was on the bench but didn’t play.
“I told the players it was my fault,” the Italian said. “It wasn’t a good plan. Barcelona played better and deserved the victory.”
Barcelona’s impressive rout also earned praise from outside Spain.
“It was a pleasure to watch this amazing performance tonight,” Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller wrote on Twitter.
The victory kept Madrid from opening a 12-point lead over second-place Sevilla with nine matches to go. Barcelona is 12 points adrift with a game in hand. The Catalan club had been near midtable early in the season.
“They are letting us dream about winning the league, and dreaming is free,” said Barcelona veteran Dani Alves, who made his 400th appearance with the club Sunday.
Barcelona’s next league match is at home against Sevilla, which is three points ahead. Barcelona is also in the quarterfinals of the Europa League after failing to get past the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in nearly two decades.
“We have to stay humble. We didn’t win a title today,” Xavi said. “We celebrate now and then we have to start thinking about our next match.”
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