Barcelona played its first game after more than three months without being able to do so. Against RCD Mallorca at Son Moix, the blaugranas looked fresh and healthy, but sometimes they were seen without initiative. Still, they exceeded the expectations considering the circumstances, and it was a great return to La Liga overall. Extraordinary centre-back Ronald Araújo received his first opportunity as a starter in the first team, Martin Braithwaite scored his first goal as a Barça player, genius Lionel Messi delivered his umpteenth masterclass, Luis Suárez completed his return and, of course, the collective shone in an very good display from everyone.
❛ We gave Mallorca a bit of space and freedom at times, but I’m satisfied with the team’s overall performance ❜
However, there were times when the team lacked creativity, verticality, and some players seemed to have some different feelings. All normal after a long time without touching a ball. The good news is that culés can see their favourite team playing more often now, and this first match left everyone with very positive sensations.
1. A good result for La Liga’s restart
Four goals, a clean sheet, no injuries and three important points as a visitor. The result of this first match was better than anyone could have imagined. Barcelona came out to dominate from the first minutes. Despite lowering the intensity around the 25th minute, the azulgranas managed to create threatening chances from time to time. This led to four goals. Four goals that were scored by different players, a message that tells that the team, in general, has arrived in great shape. Perhaps there were moments when Mallorca began to be more dangerous than the Catalans, but the commendable defensive work was key to keeping the goal to zero.
With this result, Barcelona is leading with five provisional points over Real Madrid, second in the table. With ten games left, this victory at Son Moix adds motivation to the team, happiness to the players in returning to play football, and more comfort in the group. Quique Setién’s ideas finally seemed to fully reach the players. Like the performance from the highly offensive full-backs, or the way of changing formation in attack–defence simultaneously.
2. Brilliant first start of Ronald Araújo
If there is someone who deserves the applauses, that is Ronald Araújo. The Uruguayan centre-back got the full 90 minutes in this opening post-pandemic match due to the suspension of Clément Lenglet and the too recent medical greenlight of Samuel Umtiti. In spite of the fact that Umtiti was already available, Setién trusted the Barça B youngster for the difficult task of being a defender for Barcelona.
Barça at times had problems in dealing with the trickery of Mallorca’s Take Kubo, but a clean sheet was achieved in the end | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
Being a defensive player in this club implies having great footwork, positioning, anticipation, reading of the game and conviction. Araújo surprised with all these attributes and astounding confidence against Mallorca. Not only did his physical power give him an advantage, but he performed all the aforementioned tasks that are needed to do a great job in that position. If it were not for Lionel Messi’s genius, he would have been deserving of the Man of the Match award.
What a joy to see second-team players having their opportunities at a professional level, even if, with the return of Lenglet, Araújo will have fewer appearances. The good news is that after this game teammates and coaching staff will certainly have more confidence on Ronald. He definitely deserves minutes in some of the remaining ten games, maybe not as a starter but at least coming off the bench.
3. Griezmann, great in the defensive work, non-existent in offence
One of the footballers who always generates high expectations is Antoine Griezmann. For being a world-class star and with a transfer value of more than 100 million euros, there are reasons to get excited whenever the Frenchman’s name appears on TV. After the break, Griezmann was expected to be seen more comfortable and settled into Barça’s dynamics. But no. Antoine was once again lost in different areas of the field, without contributions to the creation of the game, and without many shots at the opposing goal. Nonetheless, his defensive work and attitude to support the ball recovery were good, as always.
If Barcelona want to compete in each of the remaining duels, a great contribution is needed from Griezmann. In attack, the Catalans have Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Martin Braithwaite, Ansu Fati and Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman is one of those who will definitely have the most minutes, but with tough competition, he needs to prove that he does deserve them. The team needs the best version of Antoine, today and always.
4. Barcelona’s players look fresh
The players returned with great motivation to play the sport they love so much. Great performances were witnessed, such as Jordi Alba’s, who before this clash had only scored one goal and distributed one assist throughout the entire season. Yesterday, though, the Spanish left-back managed to double his statistics. He still lacks consistency, as he made some meaningless passes and may need more refining, but Jordi Alba is truly back.
Similarly, Martin Braithwaite unsurprisingly added intensity to the team. In attack, he did not participate much, but when he did, he linked up very well with his teammates, managing to score a goal and generating many goalscoring opportunities. In defence, he may not have the best qualities, but he more than made up for it by pressing hard with his high intensity.
❛ Been so long since I’ve seen Messi play, I was getting withdrawal symptoms. Just the one goal and two assists. Life is returning to normal ❜
Other footballers had a remarkable display last night too, obviously like Lionel Messi. Messi managed to finish the match with two assists and a goal to his name. Another night in the office for the number 10. That said, the chance-creation in attack depended on most occasions on the brilliance of the Argentinian. Something that could be worrying, though thankfully yesterday Barça had four different goalscorers.
Similarly, Frenkie de Jong was important in the culés‘ first two goals with his superb vision and anticipation. Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets excelled, with intelligence and sacrifice on the pitch. Finally, Luis Suárez returned to action after his knee operation back in January. He delivered an assist to Messi after a great job in providing Leo more spaces. Little by little, the Uruguayan needs to start regaining some rhythm, as he could be fundamental for Quique Setién.
5. Some problems in terms of verticality
The only negative aspect of the match against Mallorca were Barcelona’s problems with balancing ball retention with verticality. Lots of possession, but at times no purpose. Lots of control, but little creativity. The team frequently made backward passes with no intention of looking to create a dangerous play. Some more directness will be needed if Barça are to break more compact blocks.
Of course, this was just the first game after a long break and the team may be working on that already. Actually, yesterday’s performance was even better than what Barça had been doing before the break. Even so, to win the league and also challenge for the Champions League, more work is needed. There are still complicated games on the schedule and verticality is a factor that needs to be improved.
❛ We don’t care who the opponent is. Today we did what were supposed to do, win the game ❜
Yesterday, the Catalans had the lead from the start, but if it had not been so, could they have managed to break the deadlock so easily? What would have happened if Mallorca had scored first? In the upcoming fixtures, all these unknowns will look to be resolved as Barcelona aims to get back to its top form as fast as possible.
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.