The match at the Santiago Bernabeu promised be a tactical battle between possibly the best coaches in the world, and it turned out to be just that. The game was not very entertaining and free flowing but it required lots of concentration and the willingness to control the spaces on the field. Barcelona did keep a lot of possession but could not do anything spectacular in the final third. Two penalties from the top two players in the world meant that neither side won the match but Real Madrid would be immensely proud of themselves for the character shown on the field after being reduced to ten men. However, after this draw, Barcelona are firm favourites to successfully defend their La Liga crown.

Starting formations

Real Madrid and Barcelona both started with variants of 4-3-3. Barcelona had their usual formation and starting line up with Messi dropping deep to get the ball and trying to draw out the Real Madrid defenders. Barcelona were always going to keep possession with these players and make Madrid chase the game.

Mourinho had clearly learnt his lessons from his mistakes at the Camp Nou, where he erred by playing a high defensive line and by not playing an extra ball-winning player in the midfield. With the injury to Lassana Diarra, Mourinho put Pepe with Khedira and Alonso to add more bite into the midfield. Pepe was marking Messi and Real were playing a 4-3-2-1 with no playmaker behind Benzema, with Ronaldo and Di Maria attacking from the wings, trying to threaten the opposition.

When opposition controls the ball, you gotta control the space

Barcelona always looked to pass and keep the ball, rather than run crazily or  try something stupid. But Real Madrid held a good defensive shape throughout the match, even when they were down to 10 men. It was all about not giving Barcelona the freedom and space to play their usual game and press them. Statistics show that Barcelona had a higher possession but most of it was useless and they passed it into their own half or near the centre of the pitch. The Madrid defence was keeping a proper eye on the off ball movements of the opposition. Pedro was ineffective and Dani Alves tried one of his trademark runs but was called offside. Iniesta could not manage those killer passes and it was all down to Xavi to pull the strings. Iker Casillas thwarted any threats safely and proved once more why Madridistas consider him to be the best in the world.

On the other hand, Benzema was finding it extremely difficult to be in the game. Clearly, Benzema enjoys the ball at his feet but his off the ball movements left a bit too much to be desired. Di Maria should definitely learn that dribbling aimlessly doesn’t help much against Barca and should try to create a pass when surrounded by the defence. Ronaldo tried to make thing happen with his free kicks but could not convert them. Real Madrid got a glorious chance when a well taken corner kick was directed towards Ronaldo by Ramos but was cleared off the line.

Pepe delivered a fabulous performance last night.

Sami Khedira and Pepe were the best players for Real Madrid on the pitch as they had to double up as breakers and creators. They had to break down attacks as well as send the ball to the flanks for attack, as a playmaker was missing. Both the players put their bodies on the line and played their heart out.

An eventful second half

After a brilliant first half in which the Real Madrid central defence had to do virtually nothing, Raul Albiol screwed up. He pulled Villa down in the box and was sent off; Lionel Messi slotted home for his first goal against a Mourinho-managed team. Mourinho had already said that he would be prepared to play with 10 players given his history against Barcelona, and prepared he was. He Brought on Ozil for Benzema, with the German international playing on the right, and then Adebayor and Arbeloa for Alonso and Di maria respectively. He put Ronaldo back on the left and suddenly the change seemed to be working for Los Blancos.

Barcelona will be worried with Puyol getting off the pitch on a stretcher holding his thigh. Pep brought on Keita for Puyol and Maxwell for Adriano. With Pedro being largely ineffective, Guardiola brought  on Afellay to enable Barcelona to take some long range shots and apply some pressure on the Real Madrid defence. But Real Madrid didnt flinch. They held their line and seemed very compact.

Ozil held the ball well, warding off defenders and retaining possession. He let his passes do all the talking for him. A superb pass to Ronaldo, who then set up Adebayor only for him to miss, and then he played a role in the penalty as well. He played the ball to Ronaldo, who passed it onto Marcelo only for the Brazilian to be brought down by Alves. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and an unstoppable penalty set up the game beautifully. The penalty was the first goal for Ronaldo against Barcelona. Then Khedira missed a glorious chance to win it for Real.

Advantage for Los Blancos

Even with 10 men, Real Madrid proved to be just enough for the Blaugrana and this will give immense confidence to the Madridistas ahead of the remaining three clashes. Mourinho was clearly disappointed with the officials for not dishing out another yellow to Alves and make it 10 versus 10, but he will be proud of his team’s performance and character on the field. Real Madrid have come a long way since the 5-0 defeat at the Camp Nou. They look more organized and hungrier. They seem to know their limitations and strengths. Credit goes to Mourinho for having played it out so well. A good game and a fair result in supposedly the least relevant of the four Clasicos. Next stop is the Mestella.

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