Following an unimpressive 0–1 away win at the José Zorrilla, our editors share their takes and standout performances from the Barcelona victory over Real Valladolid.
To the dissatisfaction of fans, Barcelona managed the second 1–0 win in a row on Saturday. While in the La Liga title race it is crucial to keep achieving all three points, culés were possibly expecting more goals and better performances both against Espanyol and Real Valladolid. Yesterday at the Estadio José Zorrilla, Barça dominated in the first half, but their rhythm dropped after the break. After very mixed, and even somewhat negative, feelings from such game, our editors share their opinions and standout performers from the latest encounter.
The lonely march
Barcelona continue their lonely march in La Liga. With the race for the title all but over, the Catalans continue to conjure up wins for a lost cause. After a rather disappointing display against Espanyol, the game looked better against Valladolid for a considerable while. The team controlled the tempo of the game, comfortable kept possession while at the same time keeping serge Guardiola at bay. The first half of the game was exceptional in the attacking sense. The fullbacks functioned as advanced wingers and Roberto helped carry the ball from the backline to the forwards. Barcelona created numerous clear scoring chances that on any other day would have been converted. The substitutions in the second half changed the game completely, however. After Riqui Puig was taken off, the midfield didn’t look the same. Barcelona were lucky to get away with the win, to say the least.
Standout performer: Marc-André Ter Stegen
The German wall once again kept a clean sheet, for the second row in the game. It isn’t just the statistic that made him the best player on the field though. Along with Gerard Pique, he was the only other reason Barcelona came home with 3 points. He completed the game with a staggering 4 saves, 3 of which were from inside the box! His quick reflexes and impeccable positioning are responsible for the Blaugrana’s still being in the title race, at least mathematically.
The only positive, the 3 points
Barcelona put in a performance which was not at all suitable for a team challenging for the La Liga title. In the second half, Valladolid were much superior and could have very possibly scored. Though Quique Setién isn’t in the best of positions to start with considering the ageing squad and he problematic board, his substitutions have been a bit concerning as well. Not only in this match, but in a previous few as well.
Shifting from a back three to a back four and back again is not a good sign from the manager. Apart from this, Sergio Busquets’ and Riqui Puig‘s substitutions were not completely justified when removing those two would take away a bit of dynamism and a bit of stability from the midfield.
Even though in the end it was a victory, the three points don’t really feel remotely close to fulfilling. The performance by both the team and the manager left much to be desired.
Standout performer: Gerard Piqué
The second half of the Valladolid match had Barcelona on the back foot most of the time. With Riqui Puig and Busquets subbed off, it became tougher to keep possession under Valladolid’s high-pressing system. Barça could have easily conceded in this process. However, one of the main reasons the lead wasn’t lost was Gerard Piqué.
He was a rock in defence. His 11 clearances, two interceptions and 100% aerial duels won show just how good he was. Along with this, like a Barcelona defender, he was always involved in the build-up. With a 96.7% passing accuracy, 87 accurate passes and 7 successful long balls he barely made a mistake in regards to the build-up as well as in defending. Along with Marc-André ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto, Piqué’s performance was the one which stood out the most.
A tale of two halves
Quique Setién deceived a lot of viewers when he named his line-up. It looked like a 4–3–1–2 with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann leading the line with Riqui Puig behind them. Spoiler alert: it was not. Setién went back to his first game at Barcelona as they lined up in an asymmetrical 3–5–2 with Sergi Roberto and Nélson Semedo constantly interchanging to provide width. And it worked brilliantly as well. Barça could have been 3–0 up in the first half itself if not for poor finishing.
“I always try to give 100% of what I have”
Setién was forced into removing Antoine Griezmann for Luis Suárez as soon as the second half began and it all went downhill from here. Barça went stagnant in midfield and the transitions slowed down immensely. The team looked lethargic and exhausted, including the captain. Not taking the chances in the first half came back to haunt the team as they were saved by the heroics of the defence. Setién needs to work on his substitutions and try to force the team to build-up pace in the final third. And it will not happen with Luis Suárez in the mix.
Standout performer: Sergi Roberto
The team seems to have come down to the individual performances of Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen to rescue them each game. However, things have shifted slightly since football resumed. Sergi Roberto has come forward again as a key member of the team, playing across multiple positions as he so often does.
He started as a centre-back but continued to push forward to add the extra bit of width. Then he shifted to central midfield and then to wingback and continued to build on his immense display. An all round near-perfect display from the Spanish international.
Substitutions not working
It was, again, a tale of two halves. When Barcelona played in the first half, it looked as if the game was going to be bright and energetic. The players combined really well and got their goal through a clinical finish by Arturo Vidal. But the tempo did not last. In the second half, it was Real Vallodolid who took the game to Barcelona. Only through brilliance on the part of Marc-André ter Stegen and Gerard Piqué did the team keep the narrow lead till the end.
The substitutes possibly didn’t have the impact Quique Setién was wishing | Photo by Irina R. H / Zuma via Imago
Valladolid looked very dangerous, and with a bit more of quality in the finishing, they could easily have put the sword through Barça’s throat. It was clear that the squad is exhausted and that the players, especially Lionel Messi, need rest. But it must be noted that the system Quique Setién employed in the first half seemed to work very well, and that the midfield was performing well until Riqui Puig was subbed off. The experimental substitutions on the other hand did not work and have given Setién something to think about.
Standout performer: Gerard Piqué
Another day, another colossal performance by the Spanish centre-half. Always in the right position, Gerard Piqué cut off any attacks that the Pucelanos attempted. He cut down the lanes well, and ensured that the opposition couldn’t convert any dangerous crosses.
Despite his age, Piqué remains essential to Barça and this match reflects the same. His experience certainly came in hand as his brilliant display led the blaugranas to another clean sheet away from home. Marc-André ter Stegen does deserve a mention though, with respects to his antics in the later part of the second half.
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.