- Rest of World
|Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid: Five Observations from El Clasico|
Real Madrid put in a title winning performance at the Camp Nou at the weekend, extending their lead atop of the La Liga table to seven points. SoccerAnchor's Frank Tigani dissects the five key aspects to come from the game...
Never write off Mourinho
Many love him, plenty more hate him while some simply love to hate him. Whatever side of the fence you sit on and for whatever reason there is one thing undeniable when it comes to Jose Mourinho; you can never write him off.
Certainly, in past fixtures, it had seemed that in Josep Guardiola Mourinho had met his equal; his heir who was ready to eclipse him and make him appear, well, not so special after all. There may be still be some weight behind this argument; this was just Mourinho’s second victory over Barca in eleven attempts.
But, on Saturday night the former Chelsea boss – and perhaps the new Chelsea boss in waiting – reminded us all that he is still the master and a true winner. That he is still the man to count on to bring success to a football club, no matter the club or the competition.
For those who have forgotten, let us recap Mourinho’s unparalleled track record; two Portuguese league titles, Premier League titles, two Serie A league titles and all three of these country’s domestic cups. Not to mention two Champions League triumphs with two different clubs and a UEFA Cup to boot. Given this success that, incredibly, has been achieved in just a decade it is in a way laughable that anyone ever even doubted him.
Mourinho has often repeated that his teams usually peak in his second season with a club. On track to win La Liga and with a spot in the Champions League final still within reach, it seems that true to form he is delivering in his second term at Madrid. After all the criticism, after being written off by many observers, it is Mourinho who is now having the last laugh.
Barcelona need to bolster their defensive ranks
It is a problem caused by their own success. As an attacking unit, Barcelona are an irresistible force – aside from Saturday night’s el Clasico. Their ability to retain possession is astonishing. Opposing sides simply cannot match them in this regard. Even when they lose they still manage to hog the ball. In fact, in their two losses in the past week, firstly to Chelsea and then to Real, they even bettered their own average having retained the ball for 79 and 72 per cent, respectively.
But, they have looked suspicious at the back for much of the season and this is could be a result of their style of play. Seldom without possession of the ball, seldom are they forced to defend their goal. When they are put under pressure they have looked vulnerable.
Vulnerable do they appear and never more so than when defending set pieces. Much of this can be explained by a lack of height. With Gerard Pique on the outer in Pep Guardiola’s side, against sides like Real Madrid and Chelsea that boast tall and strong players, Barca’s rear-guard struggle.
Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer a big game flop
It is a charge often aimed at Ronaldo. For all his record-breaking goal-scoring exploits, he is believed to be by many as a big game flop. This criticism has long been a cloud hovering over the Portugal international and many point to a number of failures on his behalf to stand up and be counted when it has mattered. The 2004 European Championships come to mind. So does his no-show against Barcelona in the final of the 2009 Champions League final. Then, more recently, it has been his failure to shine in the ‘El Clasicos’ – highlighted by Lionel Messi who has often made it a habit to score against Real Madrid.
But, recent form suggests that to criticise Ronaldo for failing to perform in the big matches makes for an argument with no grounding. The Real number 7 has scored in the last three contests between Spain’s big two and has a total of four goals in the last six. Messi, on the contrary, has failed to find the net in the last four meetings between the two teams.
We have been treated to many Clasico’s over the last two seasons, some of them more important than others in regards to winning cup and championships. Saturday night’s edition was as big as they come. The right to who should be crowned domestic league champions was on the line and it was Ronaldo who stepped up to decide the fate of the two teams with his winner.
All this without even mentioning the fact that Ronaldo has scored in a Champions League final (2008) and it was he who grabbed the winner in last season’s Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
Mourinho finally knows how to beat Barcelona
In the ten prior attempts to defeat Barcelona, Jose Mourinho had tried ten different approaches – only succeeding once.
Despite his reputation for being a master at cancelling out the opposition, Mourinho has clearly struggled to determine the best way to halt the Catalan juggernaut. But, he may have finally found the solution.
Perhaps taking a leaf out of AC Milan and Chelsea’s notebooks on how to play against Barcelona, the Real defence did not sit too deep, kept the defensive lines close and concentrated bodies in the centre of the pitch. This forced Barcelona to attack down the wings and given their lack of height in attack they struggled to threaten the goal from crosses swung into the box while frustrating Barca's attempts to cut through the middle.
In addition, as ever, Real made their great physical strength apparent to try and unsettle Pep Guardiola’s diminutive world beaters and this worked to great effect. There were increasing signs of frustration in the Barca as the match progressed and no clearer than when Xavi reacted angrily to being substituted just past the hour mark.
In attack, Mourinho did not alter much. Real played a typically direct counter-attacking game. They looked to get the ball straight to their front trident with Mesut Ozil charged with finding the right passes to release Benzema, Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria.
Guardiola got his tactics wrong
No Gerard Pique. No Cesc Fabregas. The former is on the outer in Pep Guardiola’s side having not played a full match since March. Whatever the reason it can scarcely be football-related. Pique would have injected some much needed pace and height into a Barcelona defence that was severely lacking in both these respects. Great with the ball at his feet, Pique is able to dictate play from deep too which would have allowed Barca’s midfielders to push up and push Real back further.
The omission of Fabregas, unlike with Pique, was completely unexpected. As Guardiola sought to change things and set his team out to attack down the wings, Fabregas was sacrificed. But, had he been on the pitch, his ability to support and link-up with Messi would certainly have caused more problems for Madrid through the centre.
Guardiola’s tactics surprised many and not least because of the two players he excluded, but, also because of the two players he included; Cristian Tello and Thiago Alantara.
While Thiago managed the weight of the match contest well on his young shoulders, Tello’s performance and in particular his finishing was poor. One suspects that even Pedro, who also started on the bench, would have buried one of the two glorious chances Tello made a hash of.
Have your say on whether or not you agree with Frank's observations below...