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Team Analysis

El Clásico loss: What does this result mean?

Javier Giorgetti

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Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Losing a match against the eternal rival is painful. Watching Messi’s performance too. Real Madrid won the game and recovered the leadership. However, this result is more than just a defeat, leaving in the air many possible futures. What does this result mean?


The duel against Real Madrid was difficult and frustrating to watch. Barça used to win year after year at the Santiago Bernabéu with great collective performances, but above all, great performances by Lionel Messi. Now seeing that the times are not as before is devastating. Setién’s plan worked during the first half, in which we dominated the game but the team missed clear scoring chances. A shame. However, in the second half, everything changed. Zidane’s team began to press more and regain control of the ball. Although with Braithwaite’s entry it seemed that the Catalans started to recover the control, it was not long until Vinicius scored and took away the Blaugranas hopes. Later on, Mariano Díaz closed the Clásico with a goal in the last minutes.

The Merengues ended up winning the duel. However, there are still hopes and many possible futures with this defeat. Although Madrid regained the lead, there are still 12 games left to play in La Liga. If we turn them into points, they are 36 possible points. There is still a lot of time. This match more than 3 points for Real Madrid means much more. It’s necessary to analyze part by part the possible scenarios such as the following matches of Los Blancos and Azulgranas. Moreover, analyze what would happen in the case of a tie and what measures should be taken to get closer to winning La Liga. So, What does this result mean?

Real Madrid following fixtures

The development of the remaining matches in La Liga and the options to return to first place no longer depend on the exclusive Barcelona’s success. Now we also have to be attentive to Madrid’s evolution week after week, look if they drop points by tying or losing a match. They could achieve the extraordinary feat, for the rival, to win the remaining 12 games. However, the consistency and regularity that the Merengues have had throughout the season reflect that in what remains of the calendar they’ll most likely be exposed to an opponent and lose points. So we can be calm since Real Madrid will sooner or later lose some of those 36 points. Zidane’s team will have to have a lot of luck to get all of those points.

Real Madrid will have complicated matches in which it will be difficult to obtain the 3 points in each one of the clashes. They will face teams like Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol away from home. In the Bernabéu they’ll play against Valencia, Getafe, Villarreal, among others. For obvious reasons, Madrid is the clear favorite in each of the duels that are still to be played. However, it won’t be easy to keep up a good pace of victories against all those rivals. And even more, if we consider the great moment of teams such as Real Sociedad or Getafe, or also that two challenging stadiums where the Merengues will play: Benito Villamarín and San Mamés. In addition, we must take into account what will happen in the Champions League. If Zidane’s team manages to eliminate Manchester City then their players will arrive more tired for those games. This result means more than any victory this season by Los Blancos.

Barcelona following fixtures

Just as Real Madrid will have very complicated matches, the same will be for Barcelona. Hoping that the eternal rival would lose points in the remainder of La Liga, we have no choice but to win all those games. The only problem here is that statistically, we’ll have a high level of difficulty. I’m talking about away clashes. Out of 20 meetings that Barcelona has played away from Camp Nou this season, it has only won 8, the rest has drawn it (5) and lost (7). Some numbers that don’t favor Barça to make the comeback in La Liga. It will be a very challenging issue for Setién, but not everything is the coach, the players also have to fully commit to the team. Because of our short squad, it won’t be easy, but it is not impossible either. Even if this result means more problems to the club, the team can still achieve big things.

The Azulgranas will face away from home Sevilla, Celta de Vigo, Villarreal, among others. Those 3 teams that we’ll face have stadiums where the pressure and the environment that will affect Setien’s team, as it has been doing this season. In Camp Nou, some of the teams with which the Catalan club will meet are Real Sociedad, Atlético Madrid, and Espanyol. A team that is playing brilliantly as is the Real Sociedad and two other teams that aren’t in great shape but always when they play against Barcelona give everything to get the victory as are Atlético and Espanyol. The positive part is that the Culés will play as locals, something that is a relief. The negative part is that among the 3 teams that we’ll face at home, we have only won against one of them this season. It was against Atletico Madrid when Messi scored in the last minutes to get the victory. Winning everything seems complicated but let’s never forget what this team can achieve when they have the right mindset. They’re simply unstoppable. The Blaugranas cannot afford to lose any game at the Camp Nou and give the maximum sacrifice as visitors.

What would happen if both teams tied in points?

It may be the case that Madrid and Barça tie in points at the end of the season. Although this scenario is unlikely, it’s one that could happen and that we cannot rule out. If this happens, Real Madrid would be La Liga champion. In accordance with the rules of the Spanish League, several criteria are taken into consideration to choose the team benefited in case of a tie. Each criterion has a level of importance that if one is not applied, the following would be taken into account, and so on.

In this case, the first criterion would be considered. As stipulated in the La Liga rules: If two teams finish on equal points, the first tiebreaker criterion is the result of direct confrontation between those teams that finish the tournament on equal points. As if this were the global score of a qualifying match in the UCL. In the first leg, the final result was 0-0 and in the second leg, it was 2-0 in favor of the Zidane’s team. A result that would put the Catalan team at a disadvantage with -2 goals and put the Merengues ahead of us. If Barça had tied the Clásico 1-1 they would have the advantage in the title race. A shame that the Culés couldn’t tie the game. Therefore, it doesn’t matter much how many goals the Setién team scores from now on. It won’t be valid for a hypothetical tiebreaker.

We don’t have to travel too far in the timeline to find a precedent with this tiebreaker rule. This took away the title from the Blaugranas. In the 2006-07 season, we lost 0-2 in the Bernabéu, while we tied in the Camp Nou with a 3-3. Fate wanted the two to tie points at the end of the regularity championship, which took that cup to the Madrid showcases. That’s one of the reasons that this result means a lot.

The strategies that Setién must carry out

Although the scenarios aren’t on Barcelona’s side, the team still can do things to lift the La Liga trophy. Difficult? Yes, impossible? Not at all. Analyzing Madrid’s situation and, although the Azulgranas don’t depend on themselves, it’s very likely that our opponent ends up losing points in the remaining 12 games. This is why Barça cannot relax for a second. The Azulgranas need to inject a dynamic and a winning mentality to be equally strong in the Camp Nou and away from it. We cannot demand too much from Quique Setién with the available players he has but there are ways to manage the squad to benefit and win the remaining 36 points in the competition.

“We were affected by the defeat, but the league is not over yet.”

Gerard piqué

1. Make congruent rotations to rest the players

Making congruent and continuous rotations will be crucial. Avoid making the mistake of playing two straight games with Umtiti and then leave Lenglet on the bench or not to let Fati or Braithwaite to play but, instead, give those minutes to Vidal after playing 2 matches in a row. Arturo is a wonderful player but he can’t play every single match, eventually, he’ll get tired. Don’t be afraid to rest indispensable players like Messi, Piqué, Alba, Busquets or Griezmann. Maintaining a healthy team will be important with the few players available and Setién must be brave with his selections, but actually making wise decisions. One thing is to be brave and another completely different that is doing something totally illogical.

2. Stick to one gameplan and leave the experiments aside

Since his arrival at the Catalan club, Quique Setién has experimented with many approaches. Using formations such as 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 4-4-2, 4-3-1-2 and the typical 4-3-3. It’s time for these tests to end and stick to a game system. With the players available in the team the most indicated would be a 4-3-3. It also has the perfect players and with the perfect characteristics to use in this formation. Enough of putting Vidal in the attack or De Jong in the wings, they both struggle to adapt to those roles. Now with Braithwaite’s signing, it makes more sense to stay in a mechanic where wingers are used.

3. Is not all about Setién, players must give a step forward

Barcelona will need the maximum intensity and sacrifice of the players. Improving effectiveness with goals, run and press high in defense will be a huge factor. Improving positioning and focus during the game to maintain organization and coordination too. Giving importance to all players on the court is also a factor to consider. The team has to understand that any player is capable of everything and has to be ready for any situation, such as when Arthur, being a midfielder, had to finish off the goal only against Real Madrid, a shot that should have ended in a goal. To dominate the games based on of the ball possession and to stay calm in the duels away from home

This result means more than just 3 points. If the team manages to follow these strategies, Barcelona will most likely win those 36 remaining points. Or at least, the majority of them. Unfortunately, there is no time for more experiments, there is no time for planning or the vast majority of players available. However, there are ways in which we can increase the chances of winning. I hope to see that with this defeat Barca has reacted. And of course, I hope Madrid to drop points as soon as possible.

The love I feel for this club is as great as the desire to share my admiration for it. Being a fan of Barcelona since when I was 8 years old and growing up watching games week after week. It makes no sense to feel so much love for this club. Being able to transmit all that love with more lovers of this sport is priceless.

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Team Analysis

Opposition Analysis: How can Barcelona beat Real Madrid

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo via Imago

One of football’s grandest matches is set for this Saturday: El Clásico. Some of the biggest names in the sport and most intriguing storylines of the season will come head to head. Real Madrid sit third in the league table, only two points behind Barcelona and three from cross-town rivals Atlético Madrid. Whatever the result, it will have direct consequences on whoever hoists the trophy in May. 

The 2020/21 campaign looked grim for both Barça and Real only a few months ago, but both teams have since improved drastically. In the first El Clásico of the season, Madrid made Barça’s poor start to the season even worse, beating the Catalans 3-1 in the Camp Nou. Suffice to say, a lot has changed since then. Join us as Barça Universal takes a closer look at Barça’s biggest rivals. 

Shaping into form

As mentioned, what started as a poor season has slowly emerged into something much better for Los Blancos. They have been devastated by injuries, they were eliminated in the Copa del Rey by a third-division side, and at one point, winning La Liga seemed completely unrealistic. Their situation was like Barcelona’s: serial winners that looked set for trophyless seasons. 

However, Real now find themselves three points off of league-leaders Atlético Madrid, and they just defeated Liverpool 3-1 in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. If there is one thing the defending La Liga champions have shown over the last few years, it’s that they step up when they need to. After a poor December and January, Madrid are undefeated in their last 12, having won ten and drawn twice. 

Madrid are in exceptional form as well. (Photo via Imago)

Barça will need to play some of their best football of the season to get a positive result at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano. 

Tactical Overview

Under Zinedine Zidane, Madrid have been versatile and tactically flexible. Regardless of his style, the trophies speak for themselves. Under his watch, they have won two La Liga titles and were the first and only team in history to win three Champions Leagues in a row. Nevertheless, the team Barça will face on Saturday looks a bit different nowadays.

Injuries have decimated Real all season long, and they will enter El clásico without first-choice centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane and right-back Dani Carvajal. Nonetheless, this was not a problem when they saw off Liverpool 3-1. Zidane typically opts for a 4-3-3 formation but has recently toyed with a 3-5-2, like Barcelona. Given the width of Barça’s play, Zidane could choose to play with wing-backs to counteract Jordi Alba and Sergiño Dest. On the other hand, on Tuesday against Liverpool, he used a 4-3-3. 

Team Statistics

Like Barça, Real are dominant in possession, typically build-up from the back, and aim to control games by dominating the middle of the park. They play well both vertically or by slowing the game down. In all competitions this season, they average 60.4% possession –for reference, Barcelona average 65%. According to whoscored.com, 42% of their attacks come down the left-hand side, heavily utilizing left-winger Vinicius Jr. and left-back Ferland Mendy. 

Defensively, they have the third-best defensive record in the league. 

Offensively, this squad has been a shell of itself, failing to score goals ever since Cristiano Ronaldo departed in 2018. Madrid have scored 78 goals across all competitions this season, and an average of 1.76 per La Liga match. On the other hand, Barcelona have scored 101. Los Blancos have scored three goals in a match only nine times this season, compared to Barça’s 17. Furthermore, according to understat.com, they are underperforming their expected goals in the league by five, meaning that they should have, in most respects, scored more goals than they did.

Benzema has most of the goal-scoring burden at Madrid. (Photo via Imago)

Their leading goalscorer and key player is talisman Karim Benzema – March’s La Liga player of the month – who has 24 goals and six assists this season. Alarmingly, tied as their second-leading goalscorer is center-defensive-midfielder Casemiro, with six. 

Build-up phase

Real tend to build up from the back, but without Varane and Ramos, they are considerably more fragile at the back. Those two are comfortable on the ball, especially the latter, so their absence has shaken things up at the back for Real. As such, midfielder Toni Kroos often drops deep to pick up the ball. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois can also play long balls over the top to Karim Benzema, or left-back Ferland Mendy can carry and progress it forward.

Against Liverpool, Courtois and Kroos often attempted long balls to left-winger Vinicius Jr, looking to capitalize on Liverpool’s high defensive line and pushed-up full-backs. If Barça press with intensity and consistency, they can force Madrid to play it long and win back possession. Nevertheless, if Barça utilize a high line, which they almost always do, they will have to be wary of long balls into the spaces between the wing-backs and centre back.

Midfield and Attacking Play

Other than Benzema up top, the key to Madrid is their midfield. The iconic trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Kroos continue to show why they are one of the best of all time. Although they have dipped in form this season, their recent performance against Liverpool was impressive, as they controlled and dominated the game. Kroos, in particular, tore them apart with his eagle-eyed passing, earning a brilliant assist, causing the second goal with his long ball, making four key passes, and a having 91% completion rate. 

Kroos also averages 4.59 shot-creating actions per game and has ten assists, while Modric has ten goal contributions, and as aforementioned, Casemiro is tied for their second-leading goalscorer. 

With the ball at their feet, they will have plenty of passing options with Benzema dropping deep, and wingers Asensio and Vinicius Jr. and full-backs Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez making runs. Kroos attempts a staggering 24 long passes (passes more than 30 yards), per game and will surely keep an eye out for any space to exploit. 

Toni Kroos is among the best in the world right now. (Photo via Imago)

Against Liverpool, almost all of Real’s goals came from the midfield and forwards capitalizing on individual errors, something Barça have been susceptible to in the past. The Blaugrana will need to be composed and switched on from the get-go. They can not afford a slow or sloppy start, like against Real Valladolid last week. 

As a team, Real Madrid are not afraid to play direct and right at their opponents, nor do they hold back when closing opponents down with intensity. They will be particularly lethal on the counter-attack, given the pace of Vinicius Jr. and Marco Asensio. Madrid will also look for crosses into the box to Benzema or Casemiro, who makes devastating runs into the box. 

Supporting runs and overlaps will come from full-backs Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez. This attack-minded duo combine for, according to understat.com, almost three key passes a game. Mendy is also the team’s fourth-most targeted player with passes and plays a key role when building up from the back or in the final third. He will often make overlapping runs past Vinicius Jr or wreak havoc more centrally. 

Ferland Mendy’s heat map for the 20/21 season, per sofascore.com

Left-winger Vinicius Jr. attempts 6.57 dribbles per game at a clip of 51.5% and often looks to use his speed and flair to get past opponents. The Brazillian had an impressive game against Liverpool, scoring a brace. Dest notably played very well against him in the first el clásico in November, and hopefully, he can do it again. Furthermore, Barça have played against some lethal quick players in recent months, such as Kylian Mbappe, and they should learn from those lessons. 

While the wingers are dangerous, Karim Benzema is still the biggest threat. After all, he has more goals than the next four leading-goalscorers combined. The Frenchman has carried Real’s attack for the last few seasons and is in mighty form over the last few games, scoring in each of his last six league appearances and scoring nine goals in his last seven appearances. Below is a visual representation of Benzema’s shots (blue) and goals (green) in La Liga this season. Evidently, he is a threat from all over and must be tightly marked. 

Karim Benzema goal and shot locations in the 20/21 La liga season, per understat.com

How can Barça beat them?

Although Liverpool struggled to create chances against Madrid’s makeshift backline, their defence is noticeably weaker without Ramos and Varane, and Barça should test them with all they have. With their full-backs pushed high, Alba and Dest can maraud down the wings, and Dembele can find space to run onto. Lionel Messi should also be able to pick out passes in and behind their backline, but the key for Barça will ultimately be their midfield. If Frenkie De Jong, Sergio Busquets, and Pedri can dictate the tempo and keep Madrid’s midfield trio on their heels, they can walk away with a meaningful result. 

Busquets will need to be at this best in this battle of two exceptional midfields. (Photo via Imago)

While Vinicius Jr. and Asensio aren’t exactly prolific goalscorers, they can find spaces in between Barcelona’s wing-backs and centre-backs. On the other hand, the three-man backline should help with covering. Furthermore, that should help Barcelona contain Benzema, but with his constant movement, he will be hard to close down. 

For inspiration, Barcelona can look to their performance against PSG in the second leg, where they quickly closed down their opponents, dominated the midfield battle and controlled tempo. Whoever wins the battle in the middle of the park could very well win the game. 

Closing Thoughts

Both teams are in incredible form over the last few weeks, but as shown in the past, form does not matter coming into a Clásico – all bets are off and anything can happen. Quite often, the results come down to individual brilliance, and Barça have plenty of tricks up their sleeve.

Despite injury struggles, Real have a knack for finding ways to win, but there are holes in their squad that Barcelona can exploit. On the other hand, the Catalans are not invincible either and will need to play one of their best games of the season. Their defence that has been susceptible to careless mistakes and lapses of concentration must sharpen up, just as their attack that has squandered many chances must be lethal.

Real have won the last two matchups; Barça haven’t beaten them since March 2019, and Messi hasn’t scored against them since March 2018. Will that all finally change?

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