Lessons from Real Madrid’s 3-1 El Clasico win
Today, at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, a rampant Real Madrid defeated visiting Barcelona in the first El Clasico of the season 3-1. The Merengues victory left the capital team atop the La Liga table by three points over their archrivals and six over third-place Atletico Madrid. In a mere ninety-plus minutes Real coach, Carlo Ancelotti, and his always-having-to-convince line-up showed conclusively why they won last year’s La Liga and UEFA Champions League trophies.
The clasico’s goals came in the 12th minute courtesy of a Karim Benzema shot down the middle of an open net, off a Marc-Andre Ter Stegen save from a Vinicius Jr. shot. The second, a beauty, followed a flowing play with Fede Valverde the recipient of a perfect set-up pass at the top of the penalty box which the Uruguayan slotted low and to the right of Ter Stegen in the 35th minute. Ferran Torres interrupted the score line completing a pretty Barcelona response of a goal in the 83rd minute before a penalty on Rodrygo was converted by the self-same Brazilian at the 90+1-minute for the final score. But the game was won before that first goal was scored.
Playing their respective best sides, the two Spanish Giants seemed to set up as always, Barca trying to possess indefinitely and Real happy to counter consistently. But that ruse lasted a few minutes as soon Madrid were pressuring the Catalans into losing possession in their own half and subjecting them to a barrage of attacking plays. When the first goal finally arrived, it was long overdue even that early in the match.
As the game progressed the veteran Real midfielders took over with Toni Kroos imperious in his tackling, passing, and today even his dribbling. Luka Modric was his superb self, controlling and directing the middle of the field until the 78th minute when coach Carlo Ancelotti thought the game over and brought in his first set of subs. Aurelien Tchouameni played as if he had been Modric’s and Kroos’ third mate all along, calm on the ball, strong on the tackle and often the first to regain possession for the hosts.
But that was just the foundation the men in white laid down. Madrid posited that they would control the middle and let Barca see what they could do to stop the attacks that sprung from that control. Similarly, they dared the Catalans to attempt their normal controlled offense once in possession, but once they had set up in the Real half the Catalans would only be able to make a couple of successive passes before having one intercepted. Eventually, the visitors were reduced to one-on-one attempts down the wings courtesy of Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha only that duo rarely succeeded in getting beyond their original markers before David Alaba and Eder Militao shut them down.
On the plus for Barcelona in this El Clasico was the inspired play of Pedri and Gavi who continue to impress with their precocious talents and inexhaustible energy. Whenever one of them was on the ball one knew two things, they would control it utterly and they would find and make the right pass. They even excelled in their heading and tackling, which given their statures at five-foot nine-inches and five-foot eight-inches respectively, and the fact that two of their midfield opponents were Kroos (6’) and Tchouameni (6’2”), meant they were both brave and effective. But they were among the few outstanding Barca performers.
In the trenches, Militao had the best game we have witnessed him have in a Madrid jersey. He simply swallowed Robert Lewandowski whole, often not allowing him to get the ball, beating him to the spot the Polish striker wanted to be in and then holding him off as they jostled for position, and finally blocking most if not all of the Poles passes and attempt at a shot. Militao simply erased Lewandowski as a threat—period.
Then, there was Vinicius Jr. being his usual self, giving Barca defensive winger Sergi Roberto all he could handle and more, and ensuring he was rarely an offensive option for the visitors. Barca’s French defender, Jules Kounde, earned his stripes stopping Vini whenever he got past Roberto. Of course, Vini got away often and in a manner of speaking assisted on the first goal.
Finally, kudos had to go to Ancelotti who knew this El Clasico was a key La Liga game, even this early in the campaign, so he put his A-team on the pitch, made the right subs at the right time, and had his team playing a surprise high pressing game that put Barca off its own game plan. In the end, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez got a slew of lessons from his elder opponent as Ancelotti gave his Catalan archrivals a lot to ponder from here until they meet again.
Photo: Eder Militao, Shutterstock Photo ID: 2043335450, by ph.FAB