Barcelona played their second game of the La Liga campaign at the usually tricky Balaídos in the Galician region. In Galicia, Barça played beautiful football but had some problems at times. For Ronald Koeman’s second game in charge of the Culés, it was an excellent display and, after the Champions League draw earlier, the fans must have a lot of expectations for the remainder of the term.
Barcelona started exquisitely, absolutely annihilating Celta’s men with their constant passing of the ball and the usually lively Galician side found themselves in a lot of precarious situations. Before the half-time whistle, Barcelona had more than 60% of the ball, and Celta, who started with ten men behind the ball began to play more.
However, Ansu Fati’s early goal settled the nerves early on for Barça as they usually find it hard to score at Balaídos. After a great build-up, Coutinho found Ansu Fati in acres of the space, and the young teenager’s shot found Iván Villar’s near post. This goal means Ansu Fati is first, along with Celta’s Aspas, in terms of goals scored in La Liga this year, with only two games played compared to the former Sevilla striker’s four.
Barcelona kept going, but Celta found life after the opener, and they began utilising their significant technical assets such as Denis Suarez. In the 36th minute, Gérard Piqué could’ve been sent-off had he not been saved by the off-side call on a Galician player. Nonetheless, Piqué would get booked for protesting Clément Lenglet’s sending off. The Frenchman was sent off for an elbow to Denis’ face, which meant he’d get his second booking of the half, and Barça had to play with ten men for the remainder of the half and the game.
A special mention to Coutinho who had a great half and is surely loving it in this mediapunta role, his favoured position. The Brazilian has shown consistency over the two games he’s played since his return from Barça, long may it continue!
All in all, the Culés had a decent half tarnished by the red card which saw Ronald Araújo become the first sub in the game at Antoine Griezmann’s expenses.
First-half score: Celta 0-1 Barcelona
Despite going into the half with only ten men, Barça did not take their foot off the gas and decided to keep going to keep their lead intact or perhaps double or triple it. This mentality paid and Koeman’s boys came out victorious from one of the roughest pitch in Spain with a convincing win despite some patches where Celta looked more lively.
Before the hour mark, Lionel Messi did his magic and dribbled past two or three players after Coutinho had passed the ball to him. Messi’s shot was deflected but went in, counting as an own goal, but the Argentine genius won’t be too fussed by the outcome. His lovely run was impressive, and he doubled Barça’s lead, something they needed to do with ten men.
Apparently, Philippe Coutinho was really in the mood tonight as he was close to set up the third goal of the game had Messi not wrongly been ruled offside. The Brazilian’s shot ricocheted off the post, and his captain had an open net opportunity and scored in it. The officials deemed Messi’s shoulder offside, but it didn’t matter in the end as the Catalans won, for once, at Balaídos.
Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
Subsequently, Gérard Piqué, in his quest for his first La Liga goal, nearly injured himself after a Messi cross when he collided with the post. While the former Manchester United player was getting treatment, the play resumed, and Barça had eight men behind the ball in the 66th minute. This sequence was nerve-wracking for any Culé, but Piqué shrugged off his injuries, and everything went back to normal as Neto had very little to do, but did well whenever he had to. After that scare, Barcelona fans would go through another dangerous phase where Celta Vigo’s Nolito’s shot was parried by Neto, and the former Real Madrid youngster’s, Miguel Baeza, shot was saved in-extremis by Sergi Roberto.
Koeman’s boldness did not end with his mentality even with ten men; the Dutch manager even made two bold moves by substituting Trincão and Pedri on. Subbing on two attackers when you need to protect a lead with ten men is an excellent way to counter the opponent and the two youngsters’ pace helped a lot when Celta went more attacking in the final phases of the game. It paid off as Roberto finished the mark with a superb volley after Messi dazzled past the defence. 3-0 against Celta at Balaídos is no small feat, and Koeman’s Barça have now scored seven goals and conceded none in La Liga. Lovely.
It was another great display by the Koeman’s men as they looked absolutely brilliant in the first two games of their La Liga campaign. Hopefully, they can keep this rhythm up.
Full-time score: Celta 0-3 Barcelona
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.