Barcelona’s dominance against Deportivo Alavés meant very little as they could salvage nothing more than a draw at the Estadio de Mendizorroza. These are the 3 takeaways from the draw in game week 8.
The brutality of Spanish football brings Barcelona fans back to reality, humbling the community once again and proving why the Blaugranas are still a serious work in progress. This was the case against Deportivo Alavés as well, as Barcelona succumbed to a 1-1 draw at the Estadio de Mendizorroza.
The second half was better, much better than what the visitors showed before proceedings. However, Barça seemed more desperate than organized, which has been one of the biggest flaws in Ronald Koeman’s era. The moment things go south and the club is failing to take a lead, numbers are thrown upfront and a blatant sense of despair is visible.
While Barça were constantly knocking on Alavés’ door the calmness and fluency that was present against Juventus was nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, despite the unsatisfactory result, this was one of those games where Barcelona were in complete control of the game, had all the statistics to back their dominance and could have possibly cruised to victory on any other day. Still, they lacked that finesse in the final third, which subsequently forced them to pay the price.
1. Griezmann galores, at long last
While Antoine Griezmann’s performances are typically as unpredictable as the English weather, the Frenchman is finally beginning to string together consistent performances, making a name for himself in Philippe Coutinho’s absence.
After a compelling performance against Juventus, an opportunity to etch his name on the score-sheet is the least he deserved versus Deportivo Alavés.
Off the mark, at long last. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Griezmann’s work off the ball and ability to generate spaces with often undetectable runs have made him an indisputable asset lately. In his last two outings, he seems to be linking better with teammates, look a lot more self-assured in possession and is bearing the fruit of not occupying a stationary role. Operating in central areas of the field has surely done him world of good.
Antoine began the game against Alavés with a few howlers in front of goal. While he was influential in the build-up plays, his inefficiency to find the back of the net cost the Catalans dearly, particularly in the first half.
Nevertheless, he made up for his errors and justified his contribution on the field with a cheeky chip over the keeper’s head to bring Barcelona back in the game. After going through one of his worst droughts ever, the 29-year-old scored his trademark goal, reminding Culés why Barça paid the big bucks for him.
Of course, it would be fair to recognize the fact that Griezmann is still lacking in confidence and usually comes across as a dejected outsider on the field, but now that he’s situated in a position far more suitable to his desires, the Griezmann fans witnessed at Atletico Madrid and the French national team is slowly coming back to life.
As he now refurbishes most facets of his gameplay, finishing is the one element he must continuously work upon. The equalizer against Pablo Machin’s side should unquestionably restore his long lost confidence and bring back the vast amount of fans that have turned against him.
His performance surely proved he is heading in the right direction and with two respectable displays already under his belt, it’s time for the World Cup winner to retract his best version.
2. Barcelona clueless as ever in front of goal
Barça’s poor finishing has become a recurring theme over the last few games. While the creation of chances is something the club unfailingly excel in nowadays, there seems to be a serious loss of confidence once these players are gifted opportunities in the final third.
Even Ansu Fati, the 18-year-old who has been one of the club’s most clinical finishers this season missed a sitter in the first half.
Frustrated outing for the birtdhay boy. (Photo by Cesar Manso / AFP)
Alavés were remarkably lucky to have scored from an error made by Neto, but when the chance to capitalize arrived, they made the most of it. On the contrary, Barcelona failed to take advantage of innumerable occasions, looking ever so wasteful in front of Fernando Pacheco’s well-guarded goal.
Lionel Messi, in particular, looked like a pale shadow of himself upfront. It was no surprise seeing the Argentine take on defenders, dribble past them comfortably and create goalscoring chances, but his own finishing was atrocious, to say the least.
Albeit Leo was constantly taking shots, none of his attempts were converted into goals, even in prominent positions, where he would usually batter oppositions.
Whether it’s age playing tricks on him or his own displeasure at the club leading to these performances, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner must step up and restrain from misusing fruitful opportunities. With a mere conversion rate of just 16% in all competitions, the Azulgranas are gravely struggling clinically.
3. Minuscule improvement by Koeman in the game
If there’s one essential element of football Koeman neglected in the Clásico, it was the usage of substitutions. His late adaptation to the game and stubbornness to carry on a flawed formula was by no means ideal. However, against Alavés, at the very least, he made changes right at the half-time whistle.
Bringing on Miralem Pjanic, Fransisco Trincão and Pedri immediately uplifted the game’s tempo. Barça were suddenly a lot more effective moving forward, opening up the rigid low block employed by Pablo Machin’s side. Pedri and Pjanic displayed their immense impact after proceedings with dynamic exhibitions.
Even Frenkie De Jong, who was reverted as a centre-back, distributed the ball effectively. Trincão’s addition didn’t exactly prove to be a major upgrade to Ousmane Dembélé. Still, his calmness in possession and ability to challenge a low block certainly made him a notable figure on the field as well.
Koeman is learning; slowly and steadily. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Even so, the aforementioned takeaway, comprising of poor finishing, enabled the hosts to salvage a point in arguably one of the most one-sided games in the Spanish league thus far. None of the dominance or possession mattered by Barça; in the grand scheme of things, it signifies very little.
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.