It was about 8:08pm on Sunday night when it started to happen. Andres Iniesta side-footed home Dani Alves pass to make it 1-0 to the blaugrana against Malaga. At 8:18pm when David Villa made it 2-0 it was there for all to see. The gap. It had been a mere two points before the final two matches on Sunday. Now it was four and Barça were beginning, just beginning to pull away as the season reached the halfway point. Real's limp draw away to Almeria ended the relentless winning cycle of the big two that had seen them in first and second place pretty much since August, losing just two matches between them, both winning all of their games since the Clasico and routinely putting four, five and six gols past even the best La Liga teams.
Barça would win comfortably, 4-1, with the hamstring injury to Dani Alves which will keep him out for the best part of three weeks the most noteworthy incident, an injury that will see him miss five games. He will however be back in time for the Champions League ties against Arsenal in late February and early March. Madrid were anything but comfortable, huffing and puffing away to a team who are dead last in La Liga. You could say they were unlucky, Cristiano Ronaldo striking the underside of the bar with a free kick in the final minute, but that would be too kind. To borrow a phrase from Sid Lowe, they were rubbish.
Kaka, starting his first game since the World Cup, looked as rusty as Luke Fitzgerald on Saturday and was hauled off in favour of Benzema (1 gol in La Liga in the 2010/11 season) early in the second half. If there was a game that illustrated Madrid's need for a striker in Higuain's absence, this was it. Until Benzema came on, they effectively had no one upfront, with neither Di Maria, Kaka, Ozil or Ronaldo leaders of the line. They've been linked with a laundry list of players, the latest being Van Nistlerooij. Why not get Raul back too? Or El Moro? With it looking increasingly likely that they'll make a move for Llorente in the summer, whoever comes in is going to be a very short term solution. Interesting that there is no one at all at Real Madrid Castilla who's even being considered for promotion to the first team.
Speaking of B team players, Thiago Alcantara, the most recent graduate from Barça B has (finally) signed a new contract. With his current deal to run out the end of the season and his unwillingness to sign another Barça B contract, the possibility of him doing a Cesc and leaving for nothing in the summer had raised it's head. Thankfully he's committed through 'til the end of the 2012/13 season. He'll see out this one at the B team. Another player not going anywhere is Gabi Milito. Having previously indicated his desire to leave and with a deal with Malaga all but done, he's had a change of heart and will stay until the end of the season. Given the lack of cover at centre back, I'm quite happy about this. Milito is a solid player and a better option than any of Fontas, Muniesa or Sergi Gomez, all of whom are still pretty raw. That said, I'd expect him to leave in the summer, probably in similar circumstances to Titi Henry and Rafa Marquez with his contract rescinded rather than the club looking for a transfer fee.