El Centrocampista

MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE – Barcelona return to haunt Real Madrid

It started off so well. When Victor Valdes gifted a goal to Real Madrid in the opening seconds at the Bernabéu, the Barcelona keeper set a new record that he won’t want to remember. It was the quickest goal ever scored in a Clásico, but fortunately for Victor Valdes, it won’t be his most vivid memory of the game.

After such a sloppy start, many an internet critic cried out in anger when Valdes continued to do exactly what he had failed to well in the process of conceding the goal- playing the ball out of the back. Such shortsighted criticisms are in line with the naivety of those who, in the build-up to this game, presumed Barcelona were already beaten.

For Valdes to alter his playing style due to one error goes against the fundamentals of the Barcelona philosophy ingrained in him at La Masia. Namely, that whilst winning is important, playing football the Barcelona way is equally vital. As it turned out, the calmness with which Valdes dealt with his error filtered down to his team, who eventually settled.

Barcelona’s response was typically Barça like in that it came through Lionel Messi. The Argentine picked up the ball in the middle of the park, beat a few men and then slid a pass through perfectly to the tireless Alexis Sanchez, whose finish was a thing of beauty.

Alexis has played his way in to this Barcelona team and looks unlikely to lose his place. The quality of the Chilean’s performance was made evident in his absence post-substitution, with David Villa looking far less likely to cause a problem than the new arrival he replaced.

To say that Madrid didn’t play well at spells would be a lie, in the first half they pressed the ball viciously and always looked likely to pull one back. One man was intent on preventing them from doing so however, and Carles Puyol was tireless in his attempts to shut out the opposition.

Puyol showed his usual passion, eye for a tackle and readiness, but also added a touch of class, with his passing from the right hand side always meeting its desired recipient. We never really speak about Puyol’s passing, partially because it is overshadowed by the Hollywood style of his compatriot Gerard Pique, but tonight I thought it was a key part in maintaining Barça’s possession after winning the ball back.

Carles Puyol is made for these kind of occasions and for this team, a captain and leader created in La Masia and perfected on the world stage.

The second half saw a marked change from the first. Madrid’s levels gradually dropped, and Barcelona began to dominate thanks in part to the better integration of Cesc Fabregas (who had looked poor in the first 45), and for the most due to a standout performance by Andres Iniesta.

The only thing Iniesta’s performance lacked was a goal, and on another night he would have got it. Iker Casillas was ready whenever called however, and in my opinion was Madrid’s standout player over the course of the game.

Though Casillas was beaten on three occasions, the first was unstoppable, and the second required a nasty deflection. He could have perhaps done better for the third – yet another headed goal from Fabregas – but to criticise the Madrid stopper would be unfair considering the kind of saves he made throughout.

Pep Guardiola should also be credited for his ambition. After the initial goal by Benzema and a poor first twenty minutes on behalf of Barcelona, the Catalan coach took the bold move of readjusting his team to a 3-4-3.

Many said it couldn’t be done at the Bernabéu, but they were wrong. As I previously mentioned, personnel is the key factor in the success of this formation, and with Alves running marathons down the right, and Carles Puyol ready to intervene whenever the Brazillian erred, the formation worked much better than in previous weeks. Barcelona’s players also interchanged in a manner that was at times astounding, which also helped in the execution of their altered system.

Jose Mourinho on the other hand will live to rue his decision to opt for Mesut Ozil in the starting line-up. The German’s class is unquestionable, but his form has been poor lately and his energy levels seemed a step below the rest of his teammates, who always looked a yard sharper. Had Mourinho opted for Khedira at the start, Madrid may have found the extra element of explosiveness necessary to truly match Barcelona in midfield, the area in which the Merengues conceded the most ground.

Several facts that have been forgotten in recent weeks have remerged with this Barcelona victory. Firstly that to doubt this Barcelona team so readily is shortsighted.

With the exception of a cup final and a match partially shaped by a Volcano, Guardiola’s team have always risen to the occasion when called upon. Perhaps the rash critics of Barcelona’s play in recent weeks would be wise to reconsider next time.

Moreover, it is clear that Barcelona still have a better defence than their mortal enemies, and their superior defensive record approaching this game was justified tonight.

Whilst Madrid defended well in spells, they often looked rash, and in truth were lucky to escape without more yellow cards or indeed a sending off. Barcelona on the other hand, between Abidal, Pique and Alves, had the perfect balance of skill, positional awareness and composure necessary to bring the best out of their team.

Javier Mascherano’s absence may have shocked many due to his outstanding form recently, but ultimately the back three tonight was entirely composed of big game players, and this was the biggest game of them all.

The league remains only half finished, and whilst we do not yet know if tonight’s victory will mark a swing in momentum towards Catalunya, it is clear the Guardiola is vindicated in his decision to prepare his team to peak slightly later this year in anticipation of the Club World Cup. Barcelona will be on a high, and if they return after Christmas with yet another trophy, it will only help them to continue their chase.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: WHAT THE PAPERS SAY: Carles Puyol is Mr. Clásico, Sport foresee Mourinho march, and Marca losing faith in Ronaldo? | elcentrocampista.com

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