El Centrocampista


Some people had indicated before the big game at the Santiago Bernabeu that they wouldn’t be watching, as ‘el clásico’ can be an anti-climax. I’m not sure what this was based on, but they missed out last night.

Even before a ball was kicked, both managers set tongues wagging with their line ups. Sami Khedira missed out for Real Madrid as Lassana Diarra partnered Xabi Alonso in midfield, whilst Karim Benzema replaced Gonzalo Higuain up front.

For Barcelona, despite speculation that Guardiola would pick a bold 3-4-3, the initial set up was a natural 4-3-3, with Pique and Puyol forming the centre back partnership, although question marks were raised over their physical state for this match.

Alexis would come in from the left, whilst Andres Iniesta was selected as the man to take the right wing slot, though played narrow.

From the kick off, you could see that Pique and Puyol were still playing quite far apart, as Guardiola usually sets his defence up.

And just 22 seconds in, Barcelona, or more specifically Victor Valdes imploded.

With the ball at his feet, Valdes tried to drill the ball out to right flank to Dani Alves.

Instead, Angel di Maria intercepted the ball and tried to thread it through to Benzema. The ball was diverted to Mesut Ozil, whose shot deflected up into the air leaving Benzema to score.

It visibly affected Guardiola’s thinking, and it became clear that a tactical change was made very early on.

Madrid were pressing high up the pitch, showing a determination and intensity not seen at the Camp Nou just over a year ago. It showed the mental strength that Mourinho has been talking about, and Madrid were rushing the passing of the back four, causing too many turnovers of possession when Barcelona really need to get their foot on the game.

Guardiola made a gamble, and changed his system to a free form 4-4-2.

Carles Puyol moved to right back, with Sergio Busquets dropping into the defence. Dani Alves pushed forward on the right hand side to try and offer something more direct, whilst Alexis made more expressive darting runs behind the Madrid back 4, which is how Barcelona got their equaliser.

Messi went on one of his trademark runs before slotting through for Sanchez, and the Chilean slammed the ball into the bottom corner with aplomb.

It was the first time Messi had really got into the game, breaking the shackles of Diarra and Alonso behind the frontman. Diarra and Alonso stuck well to Messi, breaking up the fluency of the Barcelona attacks.

The change in setup enabled Pep’s men to flood the midfield and ultimately gain control of the game. In the lead up to the equaliser, Madrid seemed to back off – it was partly down to Guardiola’s tactical changes and partly down to them sitting back on their 1 goal lead. The pressing became more lax and gradually, Barcelona took control before the break.

The second half began with similar systems being deployed, despite the ineffectuality of Cesc Fabregas in the Barcelona midfield. Forced out towards the left hand side, Fabregas found it hard to impose himself on the game.

His burgeoning understanding with Messi disappeared in the first half, showing how Fabregas thrives in the attacking midfield role of Guardiola’s 3-4-3.

But just 10 minutes into the second half, Xavi’s deflected strike fired Barcelona into the lead, and it forced Madrid to come and attack Barcelona. This led to yet another system change from Guardiola.

The constant tactical diversity of Barcelona’s play kept confusing the Madrid backline, with all the flowing movement you’d expect from Guardiola’s team apparent as Madrid struggled to keep up with Barcelona.

As Madrid brought on Kaka, Higuain and Khedira for Ozil, Di Maria and Diarra, the search of the goal started in full force. Guardiola’s change was to have a midfield diamond, particularly when Keita came on for Fabregas, allowing the Malian international to sit and protect the back four.

The most striking part of the second half was that Dani Alves took full advantage of Higuain’s aggressive attacking nature by bombarding forward, setting up Cesc Fabregas for the 3rd goal with a superb run and cross.

Messi continued to roam deep and allow Alexis then David Villa to run in behind, whilst Andres Iniesta continued to pull the strings on the left hand side for Barcelona, earning a standing ovation from some Madrid fans as he left the field for Pedro.

Madrid failed to find another goal, and it was no surprise as star man and attacking lynchpin Cristiano Ronaldo looked off colour, constantly shackled by a well organised Barcelona back 4 – more so in the second half than the first, but they kept the Portuguese forward quiet, no matter where was – cutting in from the left or right, it didn’t seem to matter as Barcelona clinched the win they so desperately required.


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