Saturday’s clash between Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid was, remarkably, the seventh El Clasico encounter of the calendar year. However, it represented the first match between the two teams during the current La Liga season and with Jose Mourinho’s Madrid sitting pretty at the top of the table the stakes were, once again, high. The match was a highly entertaining affair, but what did we learn from the latest instalment of, arguably, the greatest derby in world football?
Jose Mourinho’s tactics nearly paid off. Although the final result of the match was 3-1 in Barcelona’s favour, it was Real Madrid who started the stronger of the two teams. Within a mere 23 seconds Los Blancos found themselves in the lead as a direct result of their attacking players harrying goalkeeper Victor Valdes into making a mistake. The pressure placed on Valdes forced him into an error as he passed the ball straight to Angel di Maria, who squared it to Mesut Ozil whose deflected shot landed favourably into the path of Karim Benzema who lifted the ball past Valdes to open the scoring.
Barcelona were rattled and rightly so. For the opening quarter of an hour of the match El Catalans were unable to find their passing rhythm which has seen them heralded as one of the greatest teams in footballing history. This was all down to Real Madrid and the high pressure style which Mourinho has instilled in his team. Xavi and Iniesta looked, for a short time, human as their slick passes were intercepted and they found themselves giving the ball away on several occasions.
Valdes, in particular, was having a bad time of it. Barcelona are famous for passing the ball out from the back and it was a style they refused to deviate from on Saturday. It almost cost them as Benzema and di Maria relentlessly charged at the Barcelona goalkeeper whenever he had the ball at his feet. On this occasion it may have been best for Valdes to kick the ball up the field and out of danger. Instead Pep Guardiola’s side stuck to their guns and it eventually paid off but they may not be so lucky next time.
Indeed, the story could have been very different had Xavi’s volleyed effort not cruelly deflected off Real full-back Marcelo, wrong footing goalkeeper Iker Casillas, and wound up in the back of the net. At this point, the Real players’ heads dropped and they weren’t pressing the Barca players with the same intensity that they were earlier. This opened up the space in which Xavi, Iniesta, Alves and Messi thrive and allowed them to consistently thread and cross balls through to the in form Sanchez and Fabregas (who eventually got Barca’s third, despite a relatively quiet game from the former Arsenal man).
Ronaldo isn’t the best player in the world, Messi is. Cristiano Ronaldo is a prodigious footballing talent. His performances in La Liga this season, and last, have been largely astonishing. However, whenever he is part of a Real Madrid team playing Barcelona, he goes missing. It was true again on Saturday. The Portuguese star barely got a touch of the ball and when he did it seemed only to waste yet another golden scoring opportunity for his team. Even worse, two of the sitters he missed led to Barcelona counter attacks from which they scored on both occasions to go 2-1, and later 3-1, ahead.