After winning magnificently in midweek in Kyiv, Barcelona had to go back to winning ways against Osasuna. Also, Real Madrid lost to Deportivo Alavés on Saturday. With a win, Barça could have climbed up to 7th place with only three points less than their rivals with a game in hand.
Ronald Koeman went in with a bizarre lineup. The Dutchman picked five offensive players, and Pedri started as part of the double pivot. The youngster was far from accustomed to the position and had a below-par display.
However, in the attack, the Catalans looked brilliant—first, a sublime move from Antoine Griezmann who dribbled the keeper to give it to Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian’s shot was saved on the line by Unai García. Then, Barça did not take their foot off the gas pedal. A superb opening from Jordi Alba saw the left-back in acres of space and his pace came to Coutinho. This time, the goalkeeper made a brilliant save, but Martin Braithwaite was there to score with his knee. 1-0 to the dominating hosts.
Later in the half, Griezmann would get his well-deserved goal. After a powerful strike in Kyiv, the Frenchman launched a rocket from the edge of the area. Sergio Herrera was stuck on his line, and the forward deservedly celebrated his insane goal.
Ter Stegen was solicited once when he made a double save on a player in an offside position, but all in all, it was a complete performance. Even Oscar Mingueza, starting the second Barça game of his career, was serene. Koeman’s men had a great half and had to confirm in the second half.
After an aggressive first-half display, Barcelona came in with all guns blazing in the second half. The Catalans were excellent all throughout the game even though Osasuna were a horrendous side.
After a calmer start to the half, a move made of several intricate passes punctuated Griezmann’s game. The Frenchman took the ball at the beginning of the action and gave it to Coutinho. This time, the attacking midfielder passed it into the net and scored his first goal since the Sevilla game in La Liga.
Koeman introduced many players to the side. Ousmane Dembélé, Francisco Trincão, Carles Aleña, Junior Firpo and Sergio Busquets all came in as handy substitutes. Aleña came on for the injured Clément Lenglet, who looked like suffering from a sprained ankle. This injury is the last thing Barça needed. Frenkie de Jong came in as a centre-back.
Soon after Dembélé’s and Trincão’s introductions, the two would link up with the Portuguese youngster giving his first assist to the Frenchman. Dembélé had a smooth finish, but the goal was ultimately ruled out because Messi made a foul during the action. Later, the 33-year-old would score a rocket from the edge of the box. The Argentine took off his shirt to show a Newell’s Old Boys shirt in memory of the late Diego Maradona. A very emotional homage from the Barcelona captain who grew up idolising the World Cup winner.
📸 — Messi dedicating his goal to Diego Maradona. pic.twitter.com/PnoWbH65P5— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 29, 2020
All in all, this was a professional performance from the Catalans. They did not leave a doubt that they were the best team out there and, for once, switched on for 90 minutes. While Osasuna were astonishingly bad, there were encouraging signs. Barcelona must get confidence and build on the promising foundations.
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.