Monday, 28 October 2013

Classico Match Report

El Classico, one of the highlights of the footballing calendar is only guaranteed to come around twice a year. Recently though, it has tended to happen more often than that. The 2010/11 season saw an incredible four clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid, in three competitions, in the space of seventeen days. The following season threw up six Classico matches in total. Last season disappointed football fans, Spain's two grandeur sides clashing a mere four times, the final league meeting being a dull non-event, both sides focusing on impending European clashes with the title virtually done and dusted.

Saturday presented us with the first meaningful clash of the Spanish giants in over a year. At the Nou Camp that night, Messi and Ronaldo both scored a brace as the sides battled to a 2-2 draw. This time however, the spotlight was very much on the two marquee signings in either side: Neymar who arrived at the Camp Nou from Santos for €57 million during the summer and of course Gareth Bale on the Madrid side.

The battle of the support actors. Neymar vs Bale

Rumours in the 24 hours prior to kick off suggested Carlo Ancelotti would be giving Bale only his second start for Madrid in the Classico. These proved correct as Bale formed a three man attack with Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria. Barcelona brought back Mascherano at centre half, Pique proved fit enough to start and Cesc Fabregas started alongside Messi and Neymar in attack. Both sides formations were pretty similar, false nine seems to be the preferred choice for these type of games right now.

Formations: Barcelona vs Real Madrid

Under Mourinho for the past three seasons, Real had developed a habbit of playing a totally reactive game against Barcelona and this proved no different here. Ancelotti brought in Varane at centre half which allowed Ramos to push forward slightly into an anchoring midfield role. Similar to what Mourinho often used Pepe for in this game. Barcelona just played their normal game as they often do. Messi was playing on the right wing with Cesc as a false nine in the centre. The crowding in there prevented him from having a real impact on the game.

Ancelotti obviously instructed Di Maria to play a similar role but his tendency to drift out to his regular right side was obvious. He, like Fabregas, seemed to get forgotten as Madrid's big two of Ronaldo and Bale were looked to for attacking drive. Albeit with very limited success in a Barca dominated first half.

As someone who is sick to death of the Gareth Bale hype, I was personally delighted when Neymar opened the scoring. It followed some great work from Iniesta who had a really good game. Madrid didn't really create anything in the first half and were overwhelmed in midfield. Modric and Khedira, brilliant as they both are, were no match for the two headed passing monster that is Xaviesta. Messi missed a golden chance to put the game to bed before half time. By his standards he had a very quiet evening.

Real looked considerably more dangerous after the break, thanks in no small part to two substitutions. Illarramendi replaced Ramos in the middle and Karim Benzema came on for Bale. Benzema going up front gave a whole lot more balance to the Madrid attack. Di Maria moved over to his preferred right side. Benzema nearly scored when his thundering shot bounced back of the crossbar, Ronaldo was denied a very strong claim for a penalty with the score still at 1-0.
Alexis got the clincher in breathtaking fashion

Madrid's period of superiority came to nothing and the Catalans clinched the win with a beautifully executed chip from Alexis Sachez, sent on for Cesc Fabregas moments before, to send the Camp Nou crowd into raptures. Right on ninety minutes Madrid got the goal that their second half efforts probably deserved, Ronaldo broke away from Dani Alves at speed and played an inch perfect pass to substitute Jese Rodriguez who's shot was straight at Valdes but wormed its way under the keeper for 2-1.

Takeaway from El Classico

Barcelona are the superior team in Spain. We knew that before kick-off. Only two points dropped all season leaves them six clear of Real after only 10 games. In a league where so few points are dropped by the leading sides, this is a massive margin. Barcelona will be more worried about the challenge of the 'other' team in Madrid now as Atletico are their nearest challengers in terms of points. I think Madrid can take some positives from this. The gap between the sides is not as big as I suspected it might be before kick-off. However I also got the impression that Barca have a couple of extra gears in hand over their rivals. For now, the momentum, the bragging rights, the balance of power and the points are all very much in Catalonia.

Here's a visualisation of the impact both Neymar and Bale had on their Classico debuts. The Brazilian quite clearly having the more enjoyable evening of the two. Courtesy of StatsZone.

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