The international break usually is a dreaded time for clubs. While Barça players did really well for their nations, they had to win on Monday against Real Valladolid to cut the gap with Atlético to one point.
The Culés were not in the game. It was not a vintage performance at all, and at times, it seemed like they did not understand what was at stake. From Sergiño Dest to Lionel Messi passing by Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri, the locals looked lost and drained from their energy.
They knew that they had to do better in the first half to cut the gap with Atlético, especially when a heated El Clasico awaits them next week.
The second half was not much better. Barcelona kept trying, but they looked like the team bereft of confidence in December that drew to Eibar.
Alas, the Catalans got their deserved win. Dembélé, after trying for ages, was the saviour. However, this performance was mediocre from the whole team. While they deserved their win, it was because Valladolid tried to waste time and did not care about winning.
A week before El Clasico, this was not a reassuring display. Ronald Koeman’s men should rethink their tactics before the big game.
9′ Valladolid attack on the right side. Saidy Janko sends a beautiful cross towards the penalty spot. Kenan Kodro gets his head on the ball but smashes the crossbar.
41′ Antoine Griezmann finds Ousmane Dembélé in behind the defence. The latter improvises brilliantly with a backheel to Lionel Messi. The visitors’ defence blocks the captain’s effort.
45′ Messi and Pedri combine on the edge of the box. The youngster tried to find his captain in the box when his pass is intercepted. The 18-year-old shoots from the edge of the box and hits the post as the goalkeeper gets his hand on it!
59′ Messi is on the counter as he finds Dembélé, who timed his run perfectly. The Frenchman’s shot is neat, but Jordi Masip is too good and stops it. Griezmann’s rebound header goes wide.
79′ RED CARD! Barcelona go on the counter as Dembélé comes near the goal. Oscar Plano makes an outrageous challenge on the Frenchman and gets sent off
90′ GOAL! Barça 1-0 Real Valladolid: Barcelona play with urgency as Frenkie de Jong sends a great cross in the box. Ronald Araujo gets his head on the ball and Dembélé smashes the ball in. Barça win the game.
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.