In one of the most thrilling Clásicos in recent memory, Barcelona and Real Madrid shared the spoils at Camp Nou, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo each getting a brace for their side. Although Barcelona were the home side, this result is more beneficial for them as they retain the 8 point lead they had before the match. Besides, Barcelona’s extreme depletion at the back made this a really great opportunity for Real Madrid to score a win at Camp Nou and cut the lead down to 5, so in a way Tito Vilanova will be happy that didn’t happen. Real Madrid will definitely be left to rue this missed opportunity to make La Liga anyone’s game again.
FC Barcelona: Victor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Adriano Correia, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Cesc Fabregas, Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi
Real Madrid: Iker Casillas; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mezut Ozil, Angel di Maria; Karim Benzema
The first half
Barcelona set up in their traditional 4-3-3 formation; there were a few surprises prepared by Tito Vilanova though, the biggest of them being Adriano as a center back alongside Javier Mascherano. With Puyol and Piqué both sidelined, it was expected that it’d be Song partnering Mascherano, but Vilanova preferred Adriano’s superior speed despite his lack of routines in that position. In hindsight, further tampering with the backline wasn’t the brightest of ideas as both Real Madrid goals came from extremely poor defending, but hindsight is 20/20. José Mourinho on the other hand had no surprises in his lineup, it was his usual 4-2-3-1 with the expected personnel on the pitch.
The match started with the usual patterns of whenever these two sides face each other. Barcelona had the lion share of the possession, with Real Madrid adopting a more defensive/counterattacking approach. It was still Mourinho’s side who created the best chances to score, and did end up scoring in the 23rd minute through Ronaldo. Barcelona’s defense opened up an avenue for Real to attack and Alves wasn’t quick enough to close down Ronaldo and stop him from opening the score. The same Alves had to leave the pitch minutes later due to injury, replaced by the young Montoya.
Things seemed bleak for the Catalans but luck was on their side: only a few minutes after the opener Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross met Benzema, who inexplicably failed a glorious chance to double the lead. Right after that, a very bizarre sequence of play on the other end led the ball right into Lionel Messi’s feet in front of goal and the Argentine equalized the score, in what was really Barcelona’s first really dangerous chance, and a lucky one at that.
The rest of the first half was mostly uneventful, with Barcelona controlling possession as always but no dangerous chances for either side. The role of Sergio Busquets must be emphasized; if not for his flawless protection of Barcelona’s backline, countless tackles and interceptions and supreme ability to retain possession, Barcelona could have lost this match in the first half alone. He was truly the man of the match for Barcelona.
The beginning of the second half saw the battle for tactical supremacy continue, without any clear goal scoring chances for either side. After all, although an entertaining affair, this Clásico only had 5 shots on target, four of them resulting in goals. Barcelona had more of the ball and the initiative of the match but were unable to create any openings in Madrid’s defense. This lock could only have been broken by the three-time Ballon d’Or winner and best player of his generation Lionel Messi, who drilled a spectacular free kick into Iker Casillas’s net to give Barcelona the lead.
Real Madrid’s reaction was quick; a mere six minutes later Mezut Ozil exploited another huge gap in the Barcelona defense to put Ronaldo through on goal and the Portuguese didn’t miss, bringing some justice to the score of what was a very even match overall. With 25 minutes left to play, it was anybody’s game.
Neither manager took many risks with their substitutions, as both teams seemed more afraid to lose than eager to win. Tito introduced Sanchez for Fabregas to crank up the pace up front, José Mourinho brought in Kaka and Higuain for Ozil and Benzema. The game didn’t change much, with both teams continuing to match each other blow for blow.
In the final 10 minutes, Xavi and Iniesta, who were mostly worried with shielding Barcelona’s makeshift backline for most of the match, played further up the pitch and that resulted in a dominating final minutes for Barca. Real Madrid were pushed back and Barcelona had quite a few chances to score the winner, namely a shot from Montoya that hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t meant to be. In the end, the draw was a fair reflection of what happened on the pitch during the 90 minutes: Barcelona had more possession as always, but Real Madrid were probably the more dangerous side overall and Barcelona paid for their lack of defensive depth. In all likelihood, Real Madrid will end up regretting not taking more risks to try and exploit Barcelona’s weakened defense and win the match when all is said and done.
In terms of the league itself, the result has changed nothing. The difference between the two Spanish giants is still eight points and Barcelona have the league in their hands, they are clearly in the pole position to win their fourth league title in five years, with José Mourinho’s outfit needing to be almost perfect until the end of the season to prevent that from happening.
In terms of Clásico matchup dynamics though, this match, along with the two Super Cup matches earlier in the season, proved that Barcelona don’t hold the same hegemony they did under Pep Guardiola. They’re probably still marginally superior, but they don’t completely dominate matches and force Real Madrid to play inside their own area for most of the them anymore. All three matches this season have been very tight affairs, a far cry from the Catalan dominance during the reign of Pep Guardiola. Real Madrid can legitimately believe in their chances for the second Clásico and in a possible Champions League or Copa del Rey tie.