This article is part of our weekly history series. You can read previous entries here.
On 8 January 1994, Real Madrid suffered one of the most embarrassing defeats in the club's history. Los Blancos travelled to the Camp Nou to face a Barcelona team who, under the inspired guidance of Johan Cruyff, were weaving their way towards yet another league title, having won La Liga in the three consecutive seasons before. The end was in sight for Benito Floro, the bespectacled Madridmanager who would lose his job within a few months of the fateful fixture. Real fielded a deflated side who had struggled to mount a serious title challenge, and they were comprehensively dismantled by the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman, and Romario in his resplendent pomp.
This was Cruyff's magnificent 'Dream Team', but their performance was the stuff of nightmares for their opponents. Romario started as he meant to go on, dragging the ball through the Real defence before slotting home under Paco Buyo in the 26th minute. From then on it was an absolute rout, with Koeman and Ivan Iglesias rounding off a crushing 5-0 victory, inspired primarily by a Romario hat-trick. By the final whistle Real's players were broken, and the club had been completely and utterly humbled. Their season would never recover, and they went on to finish fourth as Barca secured the title on the final day.
Prior to that match, the last time that El Clasico had witnessed such a one-sided scoreline was almost precisely two decades previous, in February 1974. That year, Barcelona had won 5-0 at the Bernabeu, which was perhaps the only thing more satisfying than giving Real a vicious quintuple thrashing on home soil. Previous to that, one has to go back to the fifties to find another 5-0 victory, this time recorded by Real in their own opulent and overblown back yard. There had only been nine other occasions when El Clasico had been decided by the same, or greater, margin of victory, dating all the way back to 1913. That puts into context just how humiliating Real's 1994 hammering really was. It must have seemed like one of the standalone defeats of the century. In fact, it would be exactly a year to the day when, with near perfect symmetry, the result was repeated once more.
This time, Barcelona would be the losers, the Bernabeu the venue, and a revitalised Real the team on their way to winning La Liga. Cruyff's revolution stalled somewhat after Barca won the 1993/94 league title, and he wouldn't actually win any more silverware for the next two years, during which he would fall out with much of the club hierarchy and eventually find himself shown the door. Meanwhile, Real had regrouped, bringing in a new coach in the form of Jorge Valdano while signing Fernando Redondo, Quique Sánchez Flores and, most importantly, Michael Laudrup. While the first two signings were tasked with shoring up the defence, the latter was a massively significant acquisition, not only because of his manifold talents but also because he had been convinced to swap the Camp Nou for the Bernabeu.
Unsettled by the signing of Romario and suffering from an increasingly fractious relationship with Cruyff, the 5-0 thrashing of Real had been one of Laudrup last big games for Barca. While he hadn't managed to get on the scoresheet, he had been instrumental in the victory, tearing through Los Blancos' defence and laying on goals for his teammates time and time again. His playing opportunities were limited after that, however, with Cruyff accommodating Romario at all costs, often at the expense of the effervescent Dane. Having been left on the bench for the Blaugrana's battering by Milan in the 1993/94 Champions League final, Laudrup demanded a transfer, and was snatched up with glee by Real Madrid.
While Laudrup's move left a bitter taste in the mouth for Barca fans, both in terms of his own change of loyalties and the behaviour of the club towards a longstanding servant and star, it would soon come to seem like a true disaster. Laudrup was about to inspire Real to a first title since 1990, helping to dish out a 5-0 drubbing to Barcelona along the way. On 7 January 1995, a sputtering Barca side rocked up at the Bernabeu, and were subsequently slaughtered by a combination of Iván Zamorano, Luis Enrique, José Amavisca and a match-winning performance by their former forward. Laudrup was unstoppable on the day, harrying Barca across the pitch and celebrating wildly whenever he set up a teammate to score.
The win was a mirror image of the year before, to the point that it was deeply uncanny. The scoreline, the performance by Laudrup, the fact that Real would go on to win the league and Barca would finish – no prizes for guessing – fourth. There had even been a scintillating hat-trick in the match, but this time scored by Real's own striking talisman, Zamorano. Precisely 364 days after Los Blancos' own mortifying defeat, the tables had been turned, and Barcelona were the team battered and bruised, sent back home to lick their wounds and regroup.
There has only been one such result in El Clasico since then, when Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid were left with a five goal deficit at Camp Nou. That was 2010 and, since then, matches have tended to be rather tighter, excepting perhaps the 4-0 pumping of a Real side presided over by Rafa Benitez in 2015. Every now and then, however, El Clasico demands a brutal reckoning. The need for such was perfectly exemplified by those two near symmetrical derbies, back when the golden era of nineties football was in full swing.
In world sport, there are few institutions quite so monumental as Real Madrid and Barcelona. They are titanic, gigantic, monolithic football clubs and, even though they are occasionally beaten by those they see as their natural lessers, the only thing that can truly curb their pride and hubris is themselves. The only way to diminish the lustre of one of Real or Barca is to see them brought low in El Clasico, chastened and routed by their greatest rivals. If those eerily similar, duplicate derbies of the mid-nineties teach us anything, it is that even Real and Barca must be humbled, if only at the hands of their greatest foes.