Going into this match, Barcelona fans would have been forgiven for feeling a little bit despondent despite recent form, having watched both Madrid teams stumble over the line in their games before the Catalan side kicked off against fifth-place Real Sociedad.
Knowing this, coming away from San Sebastián, a place where Barca have struggled in the past, with three points, was a must, as the La Liga title race begins to hit boiling point.
Sociedad had only conceded ten goals all season at home before the match,, and in a tie that was pencilled down as a potential fixture that could Barca drop points in, the Blaugrana side made one of their biggest statements of the season.
Here are three takeaways from Barcelona’s emphatic win over Real Sociedad.
1. A formation for every occasion
When Barcelona appointed Ronald Koeman to be the next manager of the club, they were not hiring the Dutchman for his tactical genius. He knew the ways of Johan Cruyff, trusted the youth, and would essentially plug a gap until a new president arrived. Most Barça fans saw it this way, as well as the football media.
Fast forward to today, and opinions have changed, as Koeman has ripped up his past record to the surprise of many with his work in Barcelona. The Dutchman has turned a predictable side into a headache for opposition managers, and the foundation of this is Koeman’s ability to adapt his formations to the opponents.
Having gone with 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-1-4-2 already this season, Koeman decided to set up in a 3-4-3 over the last two games against two teams who defended with five at the back.
Needless to say, it has worked. Barca have scored ten goals across the two games and look exceptional going forward, whilst also being solid at the back, despite a few shaky moments here and there. Ronald Koeman deserves massive praise for the unpredictability of this Barca side, and it should give them an edge throughout the run-in over the unsurprising Madrid clubs.
2. Dazzling Dest
Selling Nelson Semedo for a reported €30 million and bringing in Sergiño Dest for €21 million must be one of the best bits of business Barcelona have done in a long while. The 20-year-old was exceptional last night, showing incredible attacking prowess as he followed up his first La Liga goal with a second shortly after.
The American international gave Real Sociedad’s stand-in left-back Martín Merquelanz a torrid time with his unpredictability. Dest was often seen running in behind and his first goal was a result of this, which the young fullback combined with a lovely finish. Dest’s second came from a brilliantly timed late run into the box, a quality a lot of fullbacks struggle to master and provided fans with another sign of this kid’s potential.
The American’s attacking ability, speed, timing, positioning, tricks, passing, and crossing were all on the show last night, and his performance no doubt grabbed the attention of many in the footballing world.
As a player, Dest is still raw, but that raw potential the 20-year-old possesses can grow enormously. Barca fans will hope his development will evolve quickly, in a way similar to that of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, because if it does, the club could be looking at its right back for the next ten years.
3. Lionel Messi is the Record book
On a record-breaking night in which Lionel Messi became Barcelona’s all-time leading appearance maker, in typical Messi fashion, he broke yet another record. The Argentine’s goals against Real Sociedad made it 467 goals in La Liga, the most goals scored by anyone in a single European league.
On the occasion of becoming the undisputed all-time top appearance maker for Barcelona, Messi was once again exceptional last night, grabbing a brace and an assist in a man of the match display. Barca’s number 10 set up Sergiño Dest with a lovely through ball for the second goal and then went on to score the fourth with a clever chip over the keeper and the fifth finishing off a wonderful team goal.
Since the turn of the year, Messi has been in exceptional form. The Argentine as scored or assisted in every La Liga game this year and has amassed a total of 16 goals and seven assists so far in 2021, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, according to stats.
The Argentine looked extremely happy on the field last night and seems to be enjoying his football. Cúlers will be very encouraged by these signs and will be confident in seeing their captain wearing Blaugrana next season. As for Messi, will the six-time Ballon D’or winner be adding a seventh to his haul this year? Only time will tell, but the signs from Robert Lewandowski’s point of view are not very good.
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.