Barcelona vs Real Madrid No ratings yet.

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

El Clasico

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.

Coutinho goal

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.

Suarez goal

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!

Second half

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.

Lopetegui

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!

Lifeline?

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.

Valverde

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.

Benzema

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!

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Champions League – Match-day 3 No ratings yet.

Match-day 3 in Champions League brings some spectacular fixtures. Tonight’s stand-out match will take place in England.

However beside the big match in Manchester there are a host of other balanced games which will go down to the wire. Let’s see what awaits for us tonight.

Champions League

Group E

Current standings

Ajax          4

Bayern Munich 4

Benfica       3

AEK Athens    0

Ajax vs Benfica

Somewhat surprise group leaders Ajax, on level points with Bayern, tonight’s game is crucial in for progression. Morale in Benfica is high after the weekend’s win against title rivals Porto and surely will make them even more dangerous. The Ducth side looks more compact and has a lot of talent up front however the Benfica side is very experienced and cynical as shown last time out. For me it looks like a draw with Ajax closer to the 3 points.

AEK Athens vs Bayern Munich

Bayern will win this one. No particular explanation required, I guess.

Group F

Current standings

Lyon          4

Manchester City 3

Shakhtar Doneck 2

Hoffenheim    1

Shakhtar Doneck vs Manchester City

The English champion need a win in order not to complicate additionally the proceedings after the false step in the opener. The quality is all on their side anyway they can’t allow and lapses of concentration. Shakhtar already proved a stern opposition, however, just as last time, City will win just because has to.

Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Inexperience cost the Germans dearly already in their first season in the Champions League. Think they learned their lesson by now? If they haven’t Lyon will make them play and that’s exactly what I expect tonight. With a win tonight the French side would take a huge step towards qualification and they can’t let such an opportunity go past them.

Group G

Current standing

CSKA Moscow 4

Real Madrid  3

Roma       3

Victoria Plzen 1

Real Madrid vs Victoria Plzen

The champions already have 1 strike. In the Champions League! They desperately need a win, more then anybody else in Europe at the moment. I don’t expect sexy football but, as City, they’ll win just because they have to.

Roma vs CSKA Moscow

Roma is the other giant in this group that needs a win after the last debacle in domestic competition and also to keep hopes alive for progression as nobody expected the Russians to have so many points at this stage. Even a draw could complicate things for the Italian side. CSKA will surely miss their influential goalkeeper and captain, Akinfeev, which is additional advantage for Roma. I expect the point to stay in the Eternal city.

Group H

Current standing

Juventus 6

Manchester United 4

Valencia 1

Young Boys 0

Young Boys vs Valencia

Valencia got a morale boosting point in Manchester last time out. This time they won’t settle for such result and I don’t believe the Swiss side hasn’t got enough quality to prevent the points going to Spain.  

Manchester United vs Juventus

The game of the night and possibly of the round! 

It’s been 15 years since their last head-to-head in a official match.

Both are coming from domestic draws at the weekend and both are disappointed from them.

Manchester was caught right at the death by Chelsea in a far from flawless match. If they’ll be anywhere near distracted tonight as they were in London they won’t get anything but trouble out of this match.

Juventus ended the perfect season beginning by coming to Manchester to early; in the middle of the game against Genoa! Will it serve them or will the slip leave scars? Juve is one of the favorites for the final triumph and a win tonight would add weight to their quest.

Neither side can afford a defeat and I believe that’s exactly what they’ll get – a point each.

Our favorite international competition has come to a crucial phase; let’s see who’ll crumble under pressure.

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Milan derby and imperfect Juve No ratings yet.

Inter vs AC Milan was the match of the weekend. The Milan derby attracted all the interest and on the Penisula. Only Genoa’s point in Turin got some attention beside the derby della Madonnina.

Milan derby

The promise was great! Both giants from Milano were going thru a positive patch with the rossoneri winning three games on the trot, scoring 10 goal on the way, and the neroazzurri already forgot when the last defeat occurred. Or even a draw for that matter.

The general idea in the Italian media was that AC Milan is actually playing better at the moment but Inter has a stronger squad. Particularly in depth.

Spirits were high on the red side of the Naviglio boosted by recent victories and the numbers of goals scored in the process. Hardly there have been better circumstances when they were expecting the city duel. Higuain is scoring, the midfield is dominating games and Donnarumma isn’t making glaring mistakes. And the defense? Or better defensive phase? Well, the ball keeps on hitting the net but as long as the attackers score more, nobody cares.

On the blue side of the city the morale is high for much longer. Even if the play isn’t particularly eye-catching the results are coming good. And that’s enough. Enough to have good atmosphere in the camp and growing confidence which is one of the corner stones for success.

Inter dominance

So, everything was ready for a hard fought battle till the last drop of blood. In the end if actually was as Inter scored the match-winning goal right at the death, deep into stoppage time. However, don’t get blinded by the way the victory came.

Inter controlled the proceedings during the whole Milan derby, setting the tempo and not allowing Milan’s most dangerous players a kick. Literally! Higuain, without doubt Milan best player, didn’t get a single useful ball the whole game. Isolated upfront didn’t stand a chance against one of Europe’s best central defensive couple; De Vrij and Škriniar.

The duo reminds me of a pair of detectives in the old movies. The Dutch is well mannered, elegant, sophisticated and good ball player. Even if behaved, getting past him is a miracle.

The other is a force of nature. Tough tackling, no-nonsense, old school defender that hits you first, than out-muscles you and than takes the ball. If you even any desire left to go for it after the treatment! And both are practically unbeatable in the air! The good cop – bad cop approach works well for now and the consequence is 6 goals conceded in 9 matches. And a few of those came with Miranda in place of one or the other.

De Vrij Škriniar

 

AC Milan shortocmings

For all on Milan’s scoring ability demonstrated the last few games only real intervention Handanovič had to make is to palm away a wayward Rodriguez cross in the second half. Suso and Calhanoglu were blocked by Inter’s side defenders and Bonaventura seemed short of inspiration and space to wave his magic.

Spaletti did his homework and annulled all of Milan’s danger. The worrying thing for Gattuso is that it seemed as if Inter didn’t even had to sweat too much!

Beside win against Roma, Milan looks out of conviction and lacking concentration in confrontations with direct opponents for high places. In other words, personality! Gattuso has plenty of it and has to find a way to transfer it to his players. And soon!

This season’s only constant for Milan is to concede and duly maintained the tradition also in this match.

92nd minute, everybody is just waiting for the referee to blow the final whistle. Or at least Milan is! Bad systematic positioning and player marking forced Romagnoli out of position to follow Vecino on the side-line. The Uruguayan whips in a cross which finds Icardi on the far post for a simple finish into an empty net.

The Inter captain and ruthless finisher, didn’t believe his eyes when the ball, after 30 meters, met his head and nobody was there at least to try to scare him off!

And the rest of Milan’s defence? Good question! My guess is that they were already in the dressing room celebrating first clean sheet of the season. Or at least headed there!

It’s being continuously repeated that AC Milan needs to work on it’s defensive phase otherwise it’s going to cost them dearly. Last night it did. And surely will again.

Inter vs Milan ended in deserved hosts victory that will be additional morale-booster for the midweek trip to Barcelona. Another stern test for the cops in Inter’s defence. Even without criminal Messi.

Juventus not perfect, yet

The bianconeri gave away first points this season. Even if this draw ended their perfect season start it’s actually a good thing in my opinion. Good for them not everybody else.

After taking the lead thru Ronaldo and holding Genoa where they wanted in the first half, Juventus already departed for Manchester. Similarly to AC Milan’s defence which left the field a few minutes before the game ended. Just that Juventus left the game at the break. The goal Genoa scored was the evidence of total loss of the very minimum concentration needed to play a Serie A match.

Credit to Genoa for exploiting what was offered but if Juve would play the game at least in the 2nd gear, the rossoblu would pack their bags without a single shot fired.

This season scoring sensation, Piatek, showed glimpses of his talents. In the first half you’d hardly notice he was on the field but in the second he came to life, albeit with help from Juve. Tested Szczesny with a shot from outside of the box and won a header in the heart of Juve’s defence that could provide much more. Little you say? Perhaps, but in those two situations he displayed his technique, timing and awareness. In a side that could provide more quality service he’ll do justice to Lewandowski’s heir tag.

As for the Juventus players it’s hard to judge since they played on autopilot for the majority of the game. However, Fabio Capello’s words might have some foundation. Which words? Well, a long time ago he said that Bonucci can’t defend! He’s a great passer but he can’t defend and many Italian fans lately agree with the statement. Also Juve fans.

This result will serve Juve as a mild warning that even if you’re a level or two above your opponent you have to stay focused until the final blow. And surely they will.

And the rest

For the rest no particular surprises. Napoli won in Udine, Lazion won in Parma and Roma lost at home to relegation-threatening SPAL. Surprise? Not this year! Roma already lost 3 games this campaign. And 2 of these loses came at home against Chievo and now SPAL. To me it looks more like a trend than a surprise.

Next weekend two fixtures stand out from the pack; Milan vs Sampdoria and Napoli vs Roma. Two wounded giants seeking for redemption in bad places.

Full results

October 20

Roma 0 – 2 SPAL

Juventus 1 – 1 Genoa

Udinese 0 – 3 Napoli

October 21

Frosinone 3 – 3 Empoli

Chievo 1 – 5 Atalanta

Bologna 2 – 2 Torino

Parma 0 – 2 Lazio

Fiorentina 1 – 1 Cagliari

Inter 1 – 0 Milan

October 22

Sampdoria 0 – 0 Sassuolo

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