Barcelona's 2-1 win in El Clasico confirmed that Real Madrid have a host of serious problems over and above the 12-point gap which has now opened at the top of LaLiga.
The reigning champions' defeat at Camp Nou, even though it was only the length of an eyebrow which ruled Marco Asensio's potentially match-winning goal offside, confirmed that Barca defender Ronald Araujo is living rent-free inside Vinicius Junior's head. The aggregate total when Barca coach Xavi has ordered the 24-year-old centre-back to change position, play at right-back and mark Vinicius, is now: P4, W4, at a score of 11-2.
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What made things worse was that the Brazilian winger started the match by forcing an own goal from a sheepish Araujo. But despite Barcelona chasing a first home Clasico win in LaLiga since October 2018, not only did the Blaugrana turn things around to win but Vinicius, instead of erupting into his usual form, flickered briefly and then became a damp squib yet again.
Of further concern for Madrid's fans was that, yet again, Los Blancos had very few tactical, athletic or creative answers for how to damage an error-prone Barcelona once Vinicius was marginalised.
Not only was this issue a central theme when the sides last met on March 2, it's now only April 5 until they play again, for the final time this season, in the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg. That game, although less important than LaLiga or the Champions League, is a gateway to a possible Quadruple for Madrid (UEFA Super Cup, World Club Cup, Champions League and Copa del Rey), or a Treble for Xavi in his first full season as boss (Spanish Supercopa, LaLiga, Copa del Rey.) And, with Real Madrid 1-0 down, I promise it will be the most explosive, tense, all-or-nothing, rancorous Clasico for many seasons.
But the question, after this dramatic late win for Barcelona via Franck Kessie's expertly taken goal, is: if Ancelotti, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and company didn't come up with solutions for Vinicius getting the better of Araujo in the fortnight between losing the semifinal first leg and Sunday, are they likely to before the second leg?
There's worse to come, too, when the implications are weighed up. Vinicius can have good and bad days, which is true of any elite-level athlete as they're all human. Yet while he added to his bulging credit account with how he created the opening goal on Sunday -- cutting on to his weaker left foot and crossing with such purpose that he caused Araujo to score an own goal -- he has never, throughout his career, been so effectively stopped by one player on so many consecutive occasions.
What does that mean? Well, it becomes a template for Chelsea -- Madrid's opponents in the Champions League quarterfinals -- as well as Manchester City or Bayern Munich too if Los Blancos progress to the semis.
Not every team, in fact very few, have an Araujo. He may not yet be in a class of his own, but he's world-class and has effectively demonstrated how others should patrol Vinicius. I'm certain Chelsea boss Graham Potter, assuming he is still in charge by the time the first leg of the quarterfinal comes around on April 12, will be working on something similar with full-back Reece James.
The events of Sunday's Clasico might have also loosened Ancelotti's grip on his job. Approaching the last year of his contract, if Ancelotti is not able to figure out a way to free Vinicius from his Uruguayan shadow by the Copa semifinal, and then in the Chelsea tie, then those of us who enjoy having the Italian working in LaLiga can probably kiss that prospect goodbye for next season.
This, by the way, is not an attack on Vinicius. He showed effort and commitment; his perpetual bravery meant that he wanted the ball whether he was under pressure or not, his idea was to carry the battle and try to turn the match. But around him, teammates like Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde had hugely underwhelming nights and Vinicius was often the only Madrid player (until Ancelotti eventually brought on Rodrygo and Asensio) who looked energetic and combative.
Overall, it's about winning and the Araujo vs. Vinicius battle has a 100% success rate for the Blaugrana. Madrid consistently look barren when the Brazilian is thwarted and, worst of all, if you look at the minutiae of this battle, Vinicius plays differently when faced with his Uruguayan rival. He doesn't hide and he's not scared, but he's tentative. Time and again, particularly in the second half on Sunday, there was space behind Araujo into which Vinicius would normally run -- tempting a right-back into making a rash challenge or leaving them in his dust.
I fully accept that this is easier when he has players like Benzema around him on form. But if you watched closely there were numerous occasions when Vinicius looked at Araujo, weighed up the sprint and opted either to dribble or pass inside. That's no crime but it's taking away a central weapon for Real Madrid and one which has seen him become, according to Ancelotti, "the most decisive player in world football."
Carlo Ancelotti reflects on Real Madrid's 2-1 loss against Barcelona in LaLiga.
Was he that on Sunday? No. Again. And for the neutral it was disappointing that this was more of the same.
Ancelotti and Madrid had a tactic planned and during parts of the first half it threatened to work. Kroos would drop into the left-back position as Madrid were playing out from defence, left-back Nacho would push forward to around the halfway line but still wide to the touchline. With Kroos occupying Barcelona winger Raphinha there would often be a choice, if Madrid moved the ball quickly, for Araujo to either run forward and close down Nacho or, as instinct told him, to stay and man-mark Vinicius. But like Vinicius himself, the plan flickered, threatened, and then vanished when both Nacho and Kroos were subbed off.
An enjoyable sidenote of the duel between Araujo and Vinicius was watching the healthy and respectful interactions between the pair, which is not always the case in the heat of battle. I think they're relishing the fight -- though it's clear the Uruguayan is much more so and Vinicius, at 22, is still figuring out what to do. Ancelotti is short of helpful remedies and several of the Brazilian's teammates are actively letting him down.
It's a problem which needs fixing. And fast. The clock is ticking as the next version of this "irresistible force vs. the immovable object" is a fortnight away. And then there'll be the interesting question of how much Chelsea boss Potter and his athletic, Araujo-esque right-back, James, have learned from what they watched on Sunday. The business end of the season is arriving and it's time Madrid went to work.