There was a sense of inevitability about this game. Barcelona’s loss at Stamford bridge seemed a viable tactic to beat the Catalans and Real Madrid followed suit. The current European champions were found wanting in two key areas of the field and one can’t help but feel that they could have used the services of David Villa and Eric Abidal, especially at this stage of the season.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have finally learnt their lesson. It took an ageing and technically inferior team like Chelsea to teach them that lesson. Why Mourinho took so long to get the point is beyond comprehension. The last time Madrid beat their rivals in a crunch match was the Copa Del Rey final (which became famous for Ramos dropping the trophy). In that game, Mourinho played Cristiano Ronaldo in a more central role and the only goal of the match came from a header from Ronaldo via a cross from Angel Di Maria.
Barcelona Strategy And Gameplay
How They Started?
[3-4-3] – Valdes; Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Thiago;Tello, Messi, Alves
Barcelona, opted for the 3-4-3 which has brought some success this season. This game, like the one against Chelsea wasn’t about tactics going wrong but rather not having the personnel upfront to execute their gameplan. One look at the front three and you will understand that there really is only one player for the defenders to worry about.
Chelsea did a good job of boxing in Messi but a large part of the diminutive Argentine’s game is for his teammates to make darting runs either laterally or longitudinally to force opposing defenders to keep track of said players thus allowing Messi to either send a through-ball between the centre back and full back for his teammate to run onto or score himself.
Unfortunately, the wingers in this case were simply not potent enough to create any goal threats. Cristian Tello is a 20 year old striker very much in the mold of David Villa except he lacks experience and quite frankly, there are very few players who can finish like El Guaje. David Villa is just as much a threat from 40 yards out as he is from 6. Tello was instructed to use his pace to beat defenders, which he did quite well and in fact, the young Spaniard made good runs but lacked the finishing required.
Dani Alves should almost be banned from shooting. Although he has a powerful shot, the Brazilian is used as a full back for a reason. He is capable of playing up front and providing the width and crosses but again isn’t enough of a goal threat for an opponent’s defenders to be worried.
The other options Pep Guardiola was left with was Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez. The former picked up a knock against Chelsea and was deemed unfit to play the entire 90 minutes. When he was introduced as a substitute, Barcelona became infinitely more dangerous. Alexis has the work rate to harass defenders, the finishing skills and the pace to beat players. His biggest attribute, however, is his ability to make lateral runs that cause havoc in an opponent’s defense. Sanchez scored the equalizer but that wasn’t enough.
Which brings us to that other part of the field. Barcelona simply lacked a tactically brilliant defender like Eric Abidal (although Puyol was great, there wasn’t enough support for him). The French defender is the only player in Barcelona’s backline with the pace, aggression and physique to keep up with the likes of Ronaldo. Moreover, Barca’s number 22 has that defensive intelligence which players like Mascherano simply cannot have (not yet atleast).
Abidal’s instinct to know when to step forward to cut off a pass or when to take a step back to give himself space and time to stop the runner was sorely missed. Mesut Ozil’s left foot did the rest and Cristiano Ronaldo provided the end product.
Although people might choose to blame Victor Valdes, fact is, in football goals scored are because the entire team was involved and goals conceded is the fault of the entire team as well. Most keepers would have lost a battle against Ronaldo and many more will in the future.
Barcelona’s gameplan was good but they simply lacked the personnel to pull it off. There just wasn’t enough left in the tank. Something they will look to fix against Chelsea on Tuesday with the inclusion of Pedro (who is more a goal threat even when out of form than Tello based on experience) and Alexis (who should be fit for the match) as Lionel Messi’s support.
Top Performers – Alexis Sanchez, Carles Puyol and Lionel Messi
Real Madrid Strategy And Gameplay
How They Started?
[4-2-3-1] – Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao;Alonso, Khedira;Benzema, Ozil, Di Maria;Cristiano
If Barcelona had a gameplan and couldn’t execute it, Real Madrid had one which worked perfectly. Few things stick out for Madrid’s strategy for the match last night.
- Mourinho learnt from Barcelona’s loss against Chelsea. In that he chose to sit deep and defend with a sole striker upfront.
- The sole striker was Ronaldo. Like mentioned above, the Copa Del Rey final that Madrid won showed that Ronaldo has the ability to use his height, pace and finishing ability to be able to play as the striker. Again, why did Mourinho wait so long to do that?
- Although Madrid defended deep and hardly had possession, even to the point that they were just hoofing the ball up field for large parts of the game. Mourinho, finally realized that his “world against us” philosophy only forced his defenders to get riled up and make silly mistakes which in turn resulted in his players being sent off. This time, however, Madrid were disciplined.
- Frustrate Barcelona. People might look down upon the antics of Chelsea’s Drogba but nobody cares as long as they get the result. In fact that is the only justification. Everybody from Casillas to Pepe to Ozil took their time on every free kick,corner and goal kick to run down the clock, regain defensive positions and stem the flow of the game.
This match can be seen as a blueprint on how to beat the Catalans or atleast stand a chance. However, that said, Barcelona are a different team with a full squad. In the first leg of the Spanish Supercup, two moments of genius earned a visibly unfit Barcelona a draw in the Santiago Bernabeu. The reasons? David Villa with a wonder strike from outside the box and Lionel Messi doing what he does.
In last night’s match, Mourinho used his team and set them up perfectly to beat an opponent who looked tired and lacked in attack and defence. Sergio Ramos was brilliant in stepping away from the backline to shackle Lionel Messi. Although one can question the tactics since Messi still managed to get away from his markers on occasion and make dangerous passes. Unfortunately for the Catalans, there was nobody to score. That said, fans of the Capital side will be happy and maybe a bit relieved to see Ramos play such a mature game. There were none of the cynical tackles from earlier Clasico’s and that is definitely the way for Madrid to follow henceforth.
Then there is Ozil who along with Ronaldo were the only real attacking threats Madrid used. The team’s second goal arrived via a brilliant counter attack with Ronaldo showing his ability to stay calm and finish. Real Madrid chose to cede possession to the Catalans knowing that this was a battle they simply could not win. Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta did what only they can do by keeping the ball well but without the necessary support upfront they were unable to make inroads and to use that possession effectively.
Lionel Messi was forced to drop deep, thanks to some solid defending from Pepe and Ramos, to help keep the ball and make a final pass. Arbeloa, to his credit, did extremely well to keep Tello (who is much faster) in check and defended well. Many Madridstas have recently taken to blaming Arbeloa claiming he isn’t good enough to play in the squad but the significance of having a full back who is defensive minded (atleast compared to Marcelo) cannot be understated.
Chelsea will look to perfect their strategy by watching Madrid’s game. However it would be extremely dangerous to look too deep into this game. Players like Pepe and Ramos have infinitely more experience in playing against Messi and co. Although Terry and Cahill were brilliant in Stamford Bridge, the Camp Nou is a wider and longer pitch and will now have a Barcelona squad looking for revenge. With 100000 fans joining them in their search for retribution, expect Pedro, Sanchez, Messi and Iniesta to be far more incisive and baying for blood.
Top Performers – Sergio Ramos, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo
TheHardTackle’s Player Of The Match
Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)
It takes a player with character to witness his team have only 30% possession and yet have the presence of mind to thread a pass like the one he did to Ronaldo for Real Madrid’s second goal. It can be argued that the German International is Madrid’s most important player considering that they simply don’t have a player of similar ability (and composure) in the squad. If Ronaldo does not score a goal, Madrid can still look to Benzema and Higuain but Ozil is irreplaceable.