Excellent anticipation of the game and an effective formation put into practice managed to bear Ronald Koeman’s side fruit massively. Barcelona, making up for their disappointing draw against Valencia, pummeled Real Valladolid at the José Zorrilla as Messi, Braithwaite and Lenglet etched their name on the score-sheet.
In spite of slightly demoting on the back foot after proceedings, as a more conservative approach was seen in action, Barcelona were in control of the game for large portions of the encounter and utilization of the wider areas of the field enabled the visitors to trouble the hosts’ compact back-line frequently.
1. Sergiño Dest is back to his brilliant best
Raiding up-field like a man on a mission, no longer do Culés have to bear witness to their right-back looking completely clueless in the final third. Gone are the days Nelson Semedo or Sergi Roberto would waste fruitful opportunities with their inefficiency in the opposition half as there’s a new star in town, who pounces on chances with extreme proficiency and barrages in crosses like a cannon. Sergiño Dest – after a few subpar displays – came in clutch to retrieve his side a 3-0 victory.
The American sensation is proving to be worth every penny so far and was a menace on the right flank against Real Valladolid. Gifted with natural full-back abilities, Dest combines his unmatched talent with wonderful awareness of the game. Instead of simply running up and down like a headless chicken, every move he makes is meaningful to Barcelona’s plays. Ronald Koeman appeared to have employed a back 3, which enabled the former Ajax prodigy to operate as a wing-back.
While Sergiño’s defensive diligence is an underrated facet of his gameplay, not being burdened with excessive responsible allowed him to burst at Nacho Martinez, who had a troublesome night containing the speed demon. Dest was cunning in possession and took players on confidently, searching for low driven cut-backs and attempting to locate players in the box frequently.
By the end of the 90 minutes, Dest accumulated a grand total of 5 key passes, which were the most by any player, and the same as the entire Valladolid team. Braithwaite’s poacher instinct helped the 20-year-old pick up an assist as he blasted the ball into the back of the net. Dest is a player who justifies the shirt he puts on, and more than meets the eye.
2. Ronald Koeman makes amends
From fielding four number 10s on the field to hampering the team’s structure with questionable substitutions, it’s fair to claim Ronald Koeman has frequently failed to play his cards right. However, as detrimental as his errors may have proven to be over the course of the campaign, Koeman, at the very least, made amends when necessary.
After a disappointing 2-2 draw to Valencia, an interesting change in set-up was seen. Instead of entailing his usual 4-2-3-1 set-up, the former Barça defender adopted an unconventional 3-5-2 system, placing a 3 man back-line. This paid off massively, mainly due to the fact that Alba and Dest were now substantially involved in the attack and were stripped off their defensive duties in the first half. The wing-back pairing injected much-needed width on the field, stretching Valladolid’s compact back-line and allowing Messi and Pedri to wreak havoc at the edge of the opposition box.
An enthralling performance against relegation fodder should by no means be perceived as a bolt from the blue, but Koeman let go of his stubbornness, approaching the game with a style that utilized Valladolid’s weaknesses. Whether a similar formation is seen again soon is certainly unknown, but it highlighted that Koeman is pliable enough to make adjustments when required.
3. Lionel Messi and Pedri: A deadly duo in the making
While it’s certainly early days, Pedri seems to be filling a void in Messi that makes him whole again. Great players come and go, in fact, attempts of signing great players spiked drastically ever since Neymar departed the club, but to Barcelona’s dismay, record money signings – Griezmann and Coutinho – are still struggling to find their feet with Messi. So much money splashed, investments made, and in the end, they failed to yield significant results.
However, ironically, the player that seemingly came with the lowest expectations, with a loan move even on the offing has stolen the show like none other: Pedri Gonzalez has elevated Barcelona’s midfield as if he has been doing this for years. Despite never having the privilege to learn his craft at the lavish luxuries of La Masia, Pedri embodies himself in elegance, aiding players surrounding him with intelligent movement and unparalleled understanding of the game.
Lionel Messi had a menacing display in the final third, as has been the case 644 times in his illustrious career. Even so, it’s been ages since the Argentine talisman looked relieved of his duties and seemed to be enjoying his football again. With Messi and Pedri combining ever so flawlessly as they read each other’s next move with a slight inkling of their expression, Messi’s huge smile never seemed to wipe off his face.
The highlight moment for the diminutive virtuous came in the game’s 65th minute, when a perfectly timed back-heel found Leo Messi, allowing him to capitalize in front of goal. Rather than celebrating his record-breaking goal with an individualistic celebration, the captain instantly pointed towards the prodigy, thanking him for constructing the play as the duo embraced with gleeful faces — a start of something special.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.