Barcelona visited Real Valladolid in the hope to get back to winning ways after an underwhelming 2-2 draw against Valencia on the weekend. Even though Valladolid were stuck in the relegation zone, it was hard to expect much from the game, especially when the lineup was announced.
Ronald Koeman fielded a 3-4-2-1, proving he is capable of change. He used the menacing pace of Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba to provide width and the genius of Lionel Messi and Pedri to find space in the middle of the park. It worked wonders for the team as they put in a very complete performance, even at the back, with each player coming up clutch, all en-route a 0-3 win.
With a dominant victory at the Jose Zorilla securing three vital points for the men in pastel pink, Barcelona must now prepare for a daunting opposition at the Camp Nou as Koeman’s side await Eibar after a momentary hiatus.
Marc-André ter Stegen: 7.5
A well-deserved clean-sheet for Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who had a relatively comfortable night between the sticks. Barcelona’s defence was rarely tested, and this enabled the German wall to get a bird’s eye view of the game as it panned out in Valladolid’s half for a majority of the game.
However, ter Stegen made a remarkable one-handed side in the game’s dying moments, denying Orellana from ruining the Blaugranas’ hard-earned clean sheet.
Oscar Mingueza: 7.5
Mingueza made up for his underwhelming exhibition against Valencia with a top-notch display at the heart of the defence. Real Valladolid’s forwards were kept at bay effectively by the prodigious centre-back as he won most of his duels and distributed the ball precisely. Operating in a three-man back-line proved to be a walk in the park for young Oscar.
Ronald Araújo: 7
A solid outing for the Uruguayan centre-back, but truth be told, Ronald Araújo was arguably the most minimally tested player on the field. With the inclusion of an additional centre-back, Araújo for large portions of the game was tasked to close down spaces and provide support to his partners at the back through his positioning. However, he distributed the ball well and enjoyed a cozy night at the Jose Zorilla.
Clement Lenglet: 8
A clean sheet, topped off by a well-placed header – Clement Lenglet showed signs of improvement after stringing a few disastrous performances in defence. The Frenchman was reliable in the possession and anticipated the threat adeptly. A fitting tribute for Moussa Wague – who suffered a career-threatening injury – after giving his side the lead was undoubtedly a heartwarming gesture.
Sergiño Dest: 8
Functioning as a wing-back brought the best out of Barcelona’s marauding speed demon. Sergiño Dest pierced through Valladolid’s rigid back-line effectively as Nacho Martinez was left chasing shadows. Dest was rewarded with an assist in the 35th minute of the game after barraging in several crosses and creating chance after chance. A flawless exhibition from the bright youngster.
Miralem Pjanic: 8
After complaining about lack of minutes on the field, Miralem Pjanic walked the talk against Real Valladolid, proving why he is more than worthy of starting games more often. Retaining the ball in tight areas, displaying short link up passing and looking for diagonal passes frequently was a sight for sore eyes, given how Barça have been deprived of a player this dynamic for so long. Busquets’ position is gradually being put in jeopardy with the Bosnian injecting flair and composure in midfield.
Frenkie de Jong: 7.5
Frenkie de Jong has finally found his mojo again, reminiscent of his days at Ajax. De Jong was incredibly resistant in pressure situations and weaved his way out with immense delicacy. The Dutchman dictated the flow of the game seamlessly and also played a key role in the build-up for the third goal. De Jong’s tenacity to thrive in a system where free-flowing football is visible is second to none.
Jordi Alba: 7
In contrast to his full-back partner – Sergiño Dest – Jordi Alba floundered cheaply as he attempted to burst up-field. Frequently attempting to find the predictable “Alba-Messi cut-back” allowed Valladolid to counter his threat. Nevertheless, Jordi Alba was considerably active in the final third and played a huge role in stretching the opposition’s rigid low block. Not having to worry about his defensive duties upraised his display.
Lionel Messi: 9
The Argentine talisman arguably had his most influential game on the road this season, with beautifully timed combinations along Pedri and a hand in almost every attack Barcelona initiated. Leo was unlucky to have Jordi Masip channel his inner Gigi Buffon as the former Barça goalkeeper was a force to reckon with between the sticks, but nonetheless, the number 10 provided an inch-perfect assist for Clement Lenglet and also inscribed his name on the score-sheet to break Pele’s record for most goals at a single club.
Lionel Messi is back in the La Liga top-scorers race. pic.twitter.com/c7B0zMjWy1— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) December 22, 2020
When Messi is offered mobility, does not frequently clash with various number 10s on the field, and most importantly, is finding a smile again, his abilities are utterly unmatched.
Pedri oozed quality, he illuminated the pitch with his sheer presence and produced a performance worthy of endless plaudits. The youngster’s distinction between the lines saw him link up marvellously with his partners in crime. Slipping into spaces silently and dealing killer blows with his silkiness on the ball, Pedri almost made it seem like he had earned a masters degree at the La Masia academy.
An awe-inspiring back-heel to Messi which saw the number 10 score was a testament that this young kid is a gem that must be preserved for years to come.
Martin Braithwaite: 7.5
The Barcelona number 9 was, at long last, handed the opportunity to feature in his preferred position up front and the Dane forward made the most of his time as a classic number 9. Martin Braithwaite manipulated centre-backs effortlessly and eventually scored a proficient poacher’s goal from a sublime Dest cut-back. The former Lega man’s work rate enabled him to add a different dimension to the Catalans’ gameplay.
Samuel Umtiti: 6
Sergio Busquets: 6.5
Junior Firpo: 6
Philippe Coutinho: N/A
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.