Barcelona vs Real Madrid, the game of all games. El Clasico has become more than a football match a long time ago. And it’s a long time since its meaning and influence has outgrown the Spanish borders.
In the general Franco era the Barca stadium was one the the very few places where catalans could be, well, Catalans. Probably this is one of the reasons of the clubs motto mess que un club. And what better way to promote it then when you play the capital representative?
History of the El Classico
First game was played in Madrid in 1902. The occasion was a tournament organized by King of Spain Alfonso XIII and it included the Basque club Vizcaya. Barca won against then-called Madrid FC 3-1 but lost in the final against the Basques.
First league match was played in 1929 when the Spanish domestic competition started. Real payed visit to Barcelona on match-day 2 and won 2-1. On the reverse fixture Barcelona returned the favor and won 1-0 in Madrid clinching the title in the process.
Games played over 100 years ago mean nothing for today’s outcome however last game was some 6 months ago and still meant next to nothing as too many changes happened since. It ended 2-2 at Camp Nou with the home side down to 10 men for the whole second half. Interestingly, in that match both teams scored very similar goals. One from a nice team move and the other an individual effort from Messi and Bale from the edge of the area.
In total 238 clasicos were played with Real in slim advantage. 95 wins for Los Blancos against 93 for Barcelona. 50 matches ended in a draw.
El Clasico nr. 239
Much publicized Ronaldo and Messi absence threatened to take away all the stardust from the encounter. However both teams posses enough talent in their ranks to offer us an entertaining match. At least Barca do!
It all started in pretty familiar fashion; Barca kept the ball and Real chased it while trying to keep it tight in defence. It didn’t work! Already in the first real attack Barca got the lead. Rakitič found Alba with a thru ball, the Spaniard went undisturbed till the goal-line and cut back a pass that Coutinho just couldn’t miss; 1-0. Real barely held any possession and already had to chase the game.
The goal apparently shook the European champions as couldn’t calm down and in the space of just a few minutes Ramos gave away the ball on two occasions that could cost the visitors dearly.
It was only in 24th minute that Real managed a prolonged possession. And when it happened, well, Barca doubled the lead.
As everybody likes to hold statistics for first times, this El Calsico provided another first time; VAR penalty.
Alba won space for a cross again, Suarez got in front of Varane who inevitably brought him down. The referee had to be warned by his assistants in the studio to check the video. For the majority of the fans in front of the screens it was clear; penalty for Barca.
Suarez took it expertly and even if Courtuois was close the ball hit the net; 2-0 and virtually game over.
In the first half Real managed to test Ter Stegen’s awareness. In fact Bale, Marcelo and Ramos just checked if he was awake at all! It looked as if the trio had an internal bet on who can take a shot from greater distance! Bale dared from some 22 meters in complete imbalance, Marcelo from 25 with his right foot and Ramos from over 30 meters.
No Ronaldo – big problem
And that was pretty much everything Real prepared for the first half.
After the second goal Barcelona seemed to leave the initiative to Real and was happy to wait for mistakes to exploit all the space in behind the visitor’s back-line. And duly got into some interesting positions that had to be taken!
Rafinha with an over-powered thru ball, Coutinho with a mistimed jump and Suarez with a completely missed cross, didn’t react as top class players as they are.
So what conclusions could be taken at half time?
Barca was 2-0 up and could be at least 4 or 5-0. Real was catastrophic!
Couldn’t hold possession, couldn’t get the ball into dangerous areas, couldn’t defend, couldn’t press with purpose, couldn’t … anything!
Modrič didn’t have a kick, Isco couldn’t find any space between the lines so he came very deep to get on the ball. Nacho was being torn apart on the flank, Casemiro couldn’t even count the opposition much less get close to it. Ramos misplaced few bloody passes, Varane wasn’t focused, Benzema… was he even there?
In short, nothing worked!
Whatever Lopetegui would come up during the interval would be better then the first half. And he came with a big surprise!
The move that he made I wouldn’t guessed in 100 years! And I’m sure very few would! He brought on Lucas Vasquez for Varane!
The change required also a formation change that could be interpreted in various ways; perhaps it was a desperate move from a desperate man. Maybe he’s already preparing the team to Conte’s preferred formation. Possibly it was to prove to his boss and everybody else that he’s capable of tactical twists.
Whatever the reason, it worked! Well, at least for 15 minutes.
Lucas went to the right-wing slot, Casemiro stepped in-between Nacho and Ramos, Kroos took the Brazilian’s place in front of the defence and Marcelo hugged the left-hand line. This allowed more space for Modrič and Isco in the central areas to search for pockets of space from where they could hurt the opponent.
It looked as a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-5-2, very unusual for the team from the capital.
And after Suarez gave the ball to Ramos in a 5 on 4 situation, Real collected the fruits of the change. Lucas found space on the right flank, served Isco in depth who immediately cut the ball back into the area. Lenglet could only deflect it and the sphere flew straight to Marcelo in the middle of the area. The flamboyant full-back calmed the ball on the chest and in an elastic stretch re-opened the game. With his right foot. Again!
I wrote that Real can’t depend on the Brazilians weaker foot to get the goals but apparently they have no other option considering the form of the attackers.
It was 49th minute and at last there was a game to be played! And after Modrič hit the post just 5 minutes after Marcelo’s goal it looked as if Real was ready to produce a historical come-back!
That was a period where Barcelona had big trouble coming over the half-way line, couldn’t keep possession and couldn’t hold Madrid’s attacks at bay.
Real’s resurrection was short lived. Soon after Modrič missed to level the game Barca found the rhythm, organized the pressing and stopped chasing shadows.
Blanco’s dominance ended already in the 60th minute when Barca had prolonged possession and finalized it with a fantastic team move that brought Suarez to hit the post too.
Before the game went completely out of reach for the visitors Benzema showed why they miss Ronaldo so much. Lucas again broke free on the right side and provided an exquisite cross. The Frenchman was some 4 meters from the goal with the ball on his head but managed to send it over the bar, for the relief of the Blaugrana fans and players alike.
Valverde, who saw that the opposition is growing and finding too much space to play in, went for additional cover. In came Nelson Semedo for the uninspired Rafinha. Anyway, the results of this change were yet to be seen when Real had its last moment.
Good pressing forced Ter Stegen to anticipate the kick. The ball ended in central midfield, worst place it could finish when you’re pressed. Real regained possession and Isco served a golden ball to Benzema only for the under-fire (ex)striker not being ready when it mattered most, again!
No Messi – no problem
On the other side Suarez is always ready! Sergi Roberto, who moved up the pitch with the introduction of Semedo, swerved an inviting cross for the Uruguayan striker. Unlike his counterpart, Suarez hit a perfect header and left Courtois with no chance. Some 12 meters out! 3-1 to Barcelona and game over. Again!
Lopetegui tried last joker he had in his sleeve, Marco Asensio. The Spanish next big thing came on for the inconclusive Bale, the supposed star of the team after the Portuguese super-star left Santiago Bernabeu.
Right after coming on Asensio had a shooting chance but he sent it over. Right after another promising situation went down the drain, the home side decided that they won’t allow any more surprises.
Ramos miss-controlled a simple ball, Sergi Roberto bounced on it and served the hero of the night in space, free on goal.
The Uruguay striker just got third child in midweek, Lautaro, and had to celebrate family increase with a personal hat-trick. Once in front of the Belgian in Madrid’s goal he went for a soft chip. Deft touch that cleared all doubts.
Minute was 83rd and you’d think that the home side had enough but when it comes to crushing the rivals from the Spanish capital, it’s never enough. And duly produced another reason for joy to the fans.
Dembele, who came on for Coutinho, got away from Nacho on the left with incredible ease and chipped in a ball that was begging to get nodded in. Timely came across another reserve player, Vidal, who accepted the invitation. 5-1!
Out of Benz
And if there were any hopes for Benzema to prove that he can secure part of the goals Ronaldo did, they all died in the 90th minute. Lovely one-two with Mariano, on for the injured Marcelo, on the edge of the box freed him in front of Ter Stegen. Nice move but ugly finish. The story of Real under Lopetegui.
The last 10 years or so Real got used to this kind of treatment at the Camp Nou. With some honorable exceptions, they always get beat. Hard!
And now Barcelona is just a win shy of Real in overall head-to-head counting!
What next, Perez?
If this result doesn’t bring an end to Lopetegui’s reign in Madrid I don’t know what will. However, his dismissal will only serve to mask the faults of the board and the president over the summer.
Antonio Conte has been heavily tipped as the next on the hot-seat. Excellent coach with proven winning mentality and results to back up his uncompromising rhetoric when it comes to justify team selection and under-par performances.
After years of success in international football Real will need bigger change then just the manager. The current squad has been together for some time now and fresh blood is needed in order to regain the hunger needed to achieve great results. And high quality in the end zone also!
Barcelona vs Real Madrid ended in familiar fashion, Barca demolishing the opposition, and it’s not funny any more. For nobody!