"Pep Guardiola is a bit like Cervantes" one Spanish journalist had written on the morning of Barça versus Madrid. "Cervantes did not invent the Spanish language but nobody has ever used it better."
No one in Barcelona is claiming their stylish young coach has reinvented the sport but his team keep putting in performances that few have seen the like of before. Guardiola keeps getting it right and Barcelona's triumphs can no longer be attributed to first-season good fortune or having a talented set of players.
He has taken a side with sparkle and given them steel and never more was that tough exterior needed as last night when they had to protect a 1-0 lead for the last half an hour against the might of Real Madrid. In truth they never tried to protect it, searching instead for the second goal. A Gerard Pique header and a Lionel Messi shot brilliantly saved by Iker Casillas nearly extended the lead given them by Ibrahimovic in the second half.
The former Internazionale player another of Guardiola's success story. There were many who doubted he would get the big-game goals Samuel Eto'o used to bag but last night he delivered – brought on at the right moment in the game but Guardiola.
"We showed great character to play the last half an hour with 10 men," said the Barcelona manager. "Four points would have been a big difference and so it was crucial that we won the game to move a point clear of them again. We have won one match. Whether we can go on and win the title is another question. But the most difficult games against Real Madrid are the ones such as this one when we are the clear favourites. It was a real test for us and we came through it.
"They have so much quality individually and as a team but we always faced them head on. Even when we went down to 10 men [Dani] Alves kept going forward when he could in the second half. He kept wanting to attack. He has the physical capacity to go forward and get back and we have others who can drop back to fill the hole."
"We deserved at least a point," said the Real Madrid coach, Manuel Pellegrini. "Ronaldo and Benzema had great opportunities but we couldn't just find the goal we needed."