FC Barcelona managed to win the first El ClA?sico of the La Liga season, with an empathic 3-1 scoreline at the Santiago Bernabeu. In the first minute of the game, Karim Benzema took advantage of a huge Victor ValdAi??s blunder to score the fastest goal in El ClA?sico history (after just 23 seconds), but Barcelona managed to find the equalizer in the 30thAi??minute through Alexis Sanchez. In the second half, a deflected Xavi shot and a magnificent Cesc Fabregas header gave Barcelona the win in El ClA?sico.

Real Madrid came into the game having won 15 matches in a row in all competitions and finally looked able to dethrone their Catalan rivals, whose away record had been pretty poor in the league prior to this game. For the first time in three years, it looked like Barcelona were the underdogs in El ClA?sico, despite the fact that Real Madrid had never managed to beat Pep Guardiolaai??i??s Barcelona in 90 minutes. This was supposed to be the game where JosAi?? Mourinhoai??i??s men would make their big statement.

There were some surprises in both teamsai??i?? lineups. Real Madrid didnai??i??t use the expected trivote and, perhaps sensing some vulnerability in Barcelona, played their usual 4-2-3-1, with Karim Benzema up top, flanked by Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona played their usual 4-3-3, but with Cesc Fabregas starting as a forward instead of David Villa and Puyol getting the nod over Javier Mascherano at the back.

First Half

Any plans or strategies both managers had for this match became irrelevant after just 23 seconds. Karim Benzemaai??i??s opening goal meant that the match pretty much started with Real Madrid in the lead and Barcelona having to chase the result. The goal clearly affected Barcelona and motivated Real Madrid. Messi did have a good chance at the 10th minute, but other than that the game was controlled by Madrid, whose incredibly intense high pressure was suffocating Barcelona and forcing them into making a lot of mistakes. The Catalans simply couldnai??i??t get their passing game going and Madrid seemed likely to score a second goal at any moment.

Realizing the situation, Pep Guardiola completely changed his tactics by the 20th minute, ordering Busquets to drop to center back, Alves to advance to a right midfield position and Puyol to move to right back. Cesc Fabregas dropped back to midfield, making it effectively a 4-4-1-1 formation (with Lionel Messi behind Alexis Sanchez up front), with Xavi taking Busquetsai??i??s defensive midfield position. This move entirely changed the dynamics of the match. Barcelona started to control possession much better and finding a lot more passing options, with Xavi having a lot more time on the ball to orchestrate Barcelonaai??i??s game. The Catalans were slowly starting to play their usual football.

In a great, lightning-fast counterattack, Cristiano Ronaldo had a fantastic chance to put Real Madrid 2-0 up, but he missed the target. That would turn out to be a key moment, since just a few minutes later Lionel Messi skipped past four defenders and brilliantly fed Alexis Sanchez, who scored the equalizer.

There were not any great chances until the end of the half, but Barcelona finally managed to impose their passing game and play the game on their own terms.Ai?? Madrid were no longer capable to press as effectively as they had at the start and their main attacking weapons had found themselves nullified by Guardiolaai??i??s tactical change. Mezut Ozil was completely marked out of the game by Sergio Busquets, while Cristiano Ronaldo didnai??i??t enjoy any luck in his duel with Puyol. Barcelona, although they looked comfortable in the match, werenai??i??t creating any dangerous situations, as the likes of Lass Diarra and FA?bio CoentrA?o stopped Messi and Iniesta from unleashing their magic. At half-time, both managers had to find a way to turn the tide in their favor and get an all-important win from this first El ClA?sico of the league season.

Second Half

While the first half was mostly dominated by Madrid (with Barcelona having brief spells of dominance), the second half was completely dominated by Barcelona. At half-time, Pep Guardiola decided to move AndrAi??s Iniesta to his usual central position and that decision turned out to be genius. While he was ordinary by his standards in the first half, he was absolutely spectacular in the second. His incredible dribbling runs and link-up play with Xavi completely changed the match. Suddenly Barcelona were in complete control in midfield and finding spaces they hadnai??i??t in the first half. The change made Cesc (who played on the left) almost completely invisible, but it allowed Iniesta to take over the match like only he can. The combination of Xavi, Messi and Iniesta in the middle of the pitch (with Messi constantly dropping deep) would prove too much for Real Madrid to handle.

AndrAi??s Iniesta made the difference and got a deserved ovation from the Bernabeu crowd

.

Real Madrid managed to withstand Barcelonaai??i??s improving passing game and got themselves a free kick in a dangerous position. They couldnai??i??t take it, though, and Barcelona went ahead a few minutes later with a lucky deflected Xavi shot. This goal turned out to be one of the decisive moments of the match, changing its entire dynamics.Ai?? JosAi?? Mourinho did his best to fight back, introducing Khedira and Kaka in the match and later Higuain, for Lass, Ozil and Di Maria respectively. But with Real Madrid taking risks by playing with two strikers, Barcelona found even more space to do what they do best and move the ball around looking for gaps. Xavi and Iniesta had a lot more time on the ball, and every time AndrAi??s went on his majestic dribbling runs from deep, Barcelona looked like scoring.

But a team of Real Madridai??i??s quality is never out of a game, even when theyai??i??re being pinned back. They withstood Barcelonaai??i??s pressure and waited for a chance to counterattack and prove why theyai??i??re considered to be the best counterattacking side on the planet. They did show it and created a fantastic chance through Cristiano Ronaldo in the 64th minute. But the Portuguese winger had a very poor performance yesterday and missed a header heai??i??d usually score with his eyes closed. This turned out to be a pivotal moment in the game as Barcelona scored the third goal right after this, with Daniel Alves sending a great cross and Cesc Fabregas doing what Cristiano couldnai??i??t and heading it in.

This goal pretty much decided the match; Real Madrid had to take even more risks and Barcelona found even more space to attack. AndrAi??s Iniesta had a truly outstanding performance and would have created a lot more goals in these final minutes had his teammates been more clinical in front of goal. Cesc Fabregas was replaced with Seydou Keita and Villa came in for Alexis Sanchez, but the dynamics of the game remained the same. Real were doing their best to get one back, but Barcelona looked incredibly dangerous every time they had the ball and the 4-1 looked closer than the 3-2. In the 88th minute, Pedro came in for the Man of the Match, AndrAi??s Iniesta, who, in a gesture of extreme fair play from the Real Madrid supporters, came off to a standing ovation from some sections of the crowd.

Although Barcelona won El ClA?sico yet again, there was the clear sensation that the difference between the two sides wasnai??i??t as big as it used to be. It was a game decided by a matter of details: had Cristiano Ronaldo not missed two chances heai??i??d usually score blindfolded or had ValdAi??s not committed such blunder, the match would have been very different. Itai??i??s true that Barcelona ended up creating more chances, but many of those came after Real Madrid were down 3-1 and had to take risks thus leaving more gaps at the back. There was a feeling before the match that this could be the year where Real Madrid would seriously challenge Barcelonaai??i??s supremacy and the match confirmed that feeling despite the result. Barcelona were the better team, but Madrid were not that far off and had their chances and thereai??i??s no doubt that they will improve even more. The La Liga title race looks certain to go down to the wire.

Things We Learned From This Match

-AndrAi??s Iniesta is irreplaceable in the Barcelona lineup. Barcelona have great depth in midfield, but Iniesta is absolutely irreplaceable, itai??i??s no coincidence that the club lost so much ground in his absence.

-Cesc Fabregas is a world class forward. Who would have thought Barcelona had signed themselves a forward back in August? Well, they did. Cesc Fabregas has adapted really well to this role and scored ten goals so far, five of them from headers.

-Carles Puyol remains one of the worldai??i??s best defenders, even at 33. His performance yesterday was mesmerizing, thwarting Real Madridai??i??s attacking attempts time and again.

-Angel Di Maria has become a world class winger in his own right. He has been incredible this season and was surely Real Madridai??i??s best attacking player (along with Benzema) yesterday, giving Ai??ric Abidal a pretty torrid time. Replacing him (for Higuain) was not a very wise decision from Mourinho. The Portuguese manager probably didnai??i??t want to take Cristiano Ronaldo off, but the fact is that Di Maria was a lot more dangerous on the day.

-Cristiano Ronaldo needs to step up in the big games. The Portuguese superstar has often been accused of not playing to his full potential in the biggest games and the latest version of El ClA?sicoAi??further strengthened that view. He missed two very good chances and lost the ball way too many times, being more of a liability than an asset. If Real are to beat Barcelona to the major trophies, they need their main star to step up.

-The gap has closed. Barcelona still look the better team and have a psychological advantage over their rivals, but Real Madrid have a team capable of taking the game to Barcelona and they must feel that theyai??i??re closer than they ever were. JosAi?? Mourinho will surely take heart from this performance and build on it for the next time the two teams face.

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10 Responses to “Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona – El ClA?sico: Post Mortem”

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  1. Sergio says:

    good article Manuel. I saw the match live and I think it described fairly and accurately what happened last night. Parabens.

  2. Jayant says:

    Frankly there were no surprises from Barca. everyone and their grandma knew Fabregas and Puyol would start. It was the preferred line-up for quite a few, including myself for the very reason we saw in the game – flexibility. We switched from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 cum 4-4-2 after the initial 25 mins with Puyol switching to RB and Alves moving up the pitch as a RW. What it showed, for those that questioned Pep’s understanding of the game, is that the man is one of the smartest readers of the game and is given very little credit for all that this team has achieved.

  3. Jayant says:

    Oh and even though Iniesta was brilliant and deserved all the plaudits coming his way, he wasn’t my MOM. That had to Carles Puyol. A lot of people talk about replacing Xavi/Iniesta being impossible but he is the one that will be the hardest to replace. A man who gives his all everytime he steps onto that pitch. Yesterday not only did he own the right side of the pitch but he also covered for a rather sloppy Pique. A monster of a player.

    And no, Mascherano is not even close to being as good as Puyol.

  4. Rooney says:

    From what i saw, Puyol was the MAN OF THE MATCH!!!

  5. madridista says:

    great article…..such a balanced review….d match showed that barca are miles ahead in terms of mental toughness….i guess dats d only difference left to conquer….i hope mourinho works dis out by d tym we face em again…a fit arbeloa and sahin will be big additions to madrid….(i believe we needed em especially after xabi got yellow-carded..sahin cud ve taken control)…neways congrats barca….HASTA El Final……VAMOS REAL!!!

  6. Aditya Sharma says:

    Ronaldo’s getting a lot of flak for his inability to perform in big games, but people forget that it’s only in big games that you get marked and man-handled by world-class players like Puyol. You could say that the man is a brick wall; a brick wall that’s in the habit of charging at players and stealing the ball from between their feet.
    The world may not see a team as strong as this again for decades; Puyol, Xavi and Messi in the same team is a once in a lifetime occurence.

    • Tarik says:

      What you said about being man handled and marked is true but look at Kaka when he played for milan he tore the barcelona defense apart they didn’t win but he did that. Alexandre Pato last year vs madrid tooled on them like messi….this things define a great player

  7. Inder says:

    Definitely agree with that..