El Clásico has been one of the most coveted matches in the world of football. That rainy and windy night in Madrid gave the viewers everything a game of football can offer. Many saw that game as almost title decider, and despite the result, the Top 3 was separated by a point before Atletico Madrid’s game in Seville on Sunday.
El Clásico – line-ups and tactical ideas
Ronald Koeman went for stability in the back with the insertion of Ronald Araujo instead of Antoine Griezmann. Adding a third center-back to provide cover for the speed of Real Madrid in counter-attacking situations. De Jong assumed a more advanced position than his usual “libero” movement on the field in recent weeks, helping the team to transition in attack with more purpose, and defensive presence off the ball. Messi and Ousmane Dembélé were responsible for the attacking threat with the help of Alba and Dest from the wings.
The plan on paper looked reasonable, although everyone knew that Real Madrid will elect to sit behind the ball and not necessarily chase and press Blaugrana all over the pitch. Fede Valverde was playing as something similar to Marcos Llorente for Atletico Madrid – a right-sided player covering the full length of the field. Having Lucas Vazquez behind him, meant they will go directly against Jordi Alba and Clement Lenglet.
Slow start meant trouble in the first 30 minutes
Zinedine Zidane with his Midas touch again, before anybody had the chance to get into the game, Valverde and Vazquez torched both Alba and Lenglet. Both Barcelona defenders elected to jump from their positions and apply pressure in a situation where they should retract and wait for support. Exposing space when you are outnumbered is just poor defending.
Valverde slaloms around a couple of players and releases Vazquez on the right side with acres of space. All made possible by Lenglet trying to intercept the pass rather wait for support. Perfectly placed cross, and Karim Benzema with a genius touch puts the ball in the back of the net.
Real Madrid was flying in the first half. Barcelona had zero ideas on how to deal with the counter-attacks, the one thing they were afraid of. The backline was never working together, Lenglet had all sorts of trouble on the left, while Mingueza couldn’t deal with Vinicius on the right. Real Madrid, like the first leg against Liverpool, should’ve score 4-5 in the first 30 mins. They blitzed Barcelona and that first half was comical from defensive point of view.
There was another chance in front of Valverde, who hit the post, and Vazquez couldn’t convert the rebound. Once again, when Real Madrid won the possession, the idea was not to retain it and sit on the ball forever they wanted to cause problems for Barcelona.
Around the 35-40 min mark, Barcelona got a grip of the possession, little combinations between Messi, Dembélé, and Dest were the most dangerous moments. Messi also hit the post, from a corner kick at the end of the half, few pinball-like situations in the penalty box and that was it. 45 mins gone, 2:0 down, and a hard task ahead.
Wake-up call at half-time
The second half started with a substitution that had Dest coming off and Griezmann being inserted into the mix. A bit bizarre, when we take into consideration that Busquets-De Jong-Pedri were invisible, Lenglet and Mingueza struggled massively. Mingueza went on the right side of the defense and Griezmann went on the left of a front three.
A rather awkward goal gave hope to Barcelona. Mingueza wasn’t covered and he timed his run to perfection. Griezmann jumped over the cross from Alba and Mingueza finished the chance under the pouring rain at Valdebebas.
Barcelona looked better and even more determined to get another goal. However, Vinicius had countless chances to kill the game off, but we all know his issues with the decision-making in the final third.
Constantly Real Madrid had opportunities in situation 4 v 3 or 4v 4, the spaces were there all second half. And this chance from Vinicius and his decision there is just beyond belief.
Many people want to talk about the referee, VAR, luck, and whatever else. The truth is that simply Barcelona slept through the first half, woke up in the second, and created some chances. Hit the post three times, put the opposition under pressure, serious doubts about one or two dubious decisions from the match officials and you will feel “robbed” in some shape or form. The truth, however, is that Real Madrid executed their plan to perfection, while Barcelona looked chaotic.
Excuses and bizarre tweets
Liverpool did not offer anything in mid-week and Real Madrid did not look that dangerous against them. In the first half of El Classico, Real Madrid looked like they will score every single time they crossed the halfway line, and similar to Liverpool, Barcelona offered a reaction that we can classify as too little, too late.
In football, we love to find excuses. The weather, the referee, the pitch, the ball, the stadium, everything but ourselves. And like Jurgen Klopp in mid-week, Ronald Koeman looked poor with his post on social media, and the press conference after the match.
Title race conversations
Barcelona losing that game wasn’t the end of the world. The title race is still very much open. The road to the title, however, now goes through Madrid. Either Atletico or Real Madrid will have the upper hand. Real already have the tiebreaker with Barcelona, while Atleti are trying to stop their collapse and finish the season with their heads held high. The race will possibly go down the to the final day, but Barcelona can’t afford anymore first-halves like this one. Or the title will be gone, and who knows what can happen in the cup final just around the corner…