Tactical review of the Clasico ...

 

Finally after 4 long years of pain and misery of winless league Clasico for Madridistas, there was joy. Finally after 4 long years, Real Madrid won a league Clasico against Barcelona.

The match started with Barca having a lot of possession, as usual, and Real sitting back and breaking on the counter. The first goal came from the unlikeliest of sources: Sami Khedira. The German international grabbed the opportunity, from Puyol’s mistake while defending the corner, and shot the ball in with his left foot from 3 yards out.

Then Barca equalised via Alexis and a bit of luck as the ball ricocheted in the box and found its way to Alexis’ feet and then went into the box. It was more of a lucky goal for Barca. And a bit sad for Iker who made some amazing saves to keep Tello’s and Alexis’ first shot out.

But quickly after, Cristiano scored. His 4th goal in the last 5 Clasicos. It was a great finish assisted by a heavenly ball from Mesut Oezil.

Tactics

Barcelona 

Barcelona played a switching formation – 4-3-3 when Real had possession and 3-4-3 when Barca had the possession. Dani Alves played as a right winger in order to stretch Real’s back 4.

Meanwhile, Puyol played in a right-back-come-center-back role, Mascherano at center-back and Adriano at left-back. The interesting thing was Busquets’ role. When Barca had possession, he went into his natural defensive midfield position and when Real had possession, he dropped deep at center back.

Busquets played his role exceptionally well. This is one of those roles which need an extremely defensively-aware player – and Busi has that awareness. When he dropped at center-back, Thiago took up his position at CDM.

What Barca tried to do with switching formation is clear: stretch Real Madrid with one out-and-out winger with Dani Alves, let Tello cut in from the left and also keep control of the midfield by outnumbering Real by playing 4 players in there when in possession and 3 when without possession against Real's double pivot (though, Oezil dropped deep to make it a trivote when Barca had possession, making Real's formation a switching one as well).

This tactic was a great innovation from Pep; packed midfield, 2 wide players & a backline of 4 when Real had possession. However, they lacked just one thing: a pure striker who would make those runs inside the box when Messi dropped deep and created a hole in Real Madrid’s backline.

Tello was started to do exactly that from the left wing, and he did it pretty well, and could may as well have won the game for Barca had he finished those 2 great chances by scoring. Had David Villa not been injured and started instead of Tello, the game could have been tougher for Real.

Alexis Sanchez was brought in the 69th minute for Xavi and the shape changed from a 3-4-3 (while in possession) to a 3-3-1-3 with Messi in the hole. The shape when without possession was more like a 4-2-1-3.

The problem now was clear: Iniesta was way too high up, and Messi was even higher. So, practically, it was like a 4-1-1-1-3 with Thiago the only one shielding the back 4 when Real had the possession and the second Real Madrid goal was a result of this – no-one helped Thiago with closing down the space hence Oezil had the space to execute his pass.

Then Cesc and Pedro came in for Tello and Adriano. The shape of Barca became too disfigured and, also, Barca players looked to have given up by then.

All in all, Pep would have been hailed as a genius tactician had Barca won this game. For me, he is already a genius tactician. His tactics were spot on, but chose to put a young and inexperienced Tello on the left and that, probably, cost him the game.

Real Madrid

Real's system was rigid – exactly the contrary to Barca’s fluid system. This was a pure case of mathematics – a plus (+) is cut out by a minus (-) or vice versa. (This is just an analogy, NOT saying Real or Barca played negatively, in case you thought otherwise.)

Real started with their usual 4-2-3-1 which often changed to a 4-3-3 when Real didn’t have the possession as Mesut Oezil dropped really deep in order to stop Barca outnumbering and over-running Real in midfield.

Mou trusted Coentrao and gave him another chance to prove his worth after his horrendous performance against Bayern. He did well. Exceptionally well, in fact.

Both full backs of Real were asked to sit back and not make any forward runs. Sami Khedira and Xabi were also asked to stay very close to the back four and help them out with defending.

Real defended really, really well as a unit. Sergio Ramos made 2 errors in judgment (once when Xavi was clean through on goal and the other when he came out of defense to dispossess a Barca player, but fouled him instead) and Pepe made one (that horrific pass to Sergio which Alves intercepted), but none of them cost Real thanks to their saviour, San Iker.

Real were happy to stand off Barca players until they came close to their box, where Real pressed and sometimes hoofed the ball downfield or tried to counter.

Real didn’t do much other than this, tactically. Real defended very well as a unit and took their chances, something which Real didn’t do in most Clasicos.

Performance

Barcelona 

Busquets was, in my opinion, Barca’s best player last night. Busquets played his dual role of defensive-midfielder-come-center-back really well.

Also, Iniesta’s backheel to Tello in the build-up of Barca’s only goal was stunning. Other than that, Iniesta had a quiet evening.

Tello did everything he was asked to, but just couldn’t finish. His movements and pace were exceptionally good and gave Alvaro a tough time, but his finishing let him down and cost Barca the game.

Real Madrid

                                                                               3 of Real's best performers

Individually, 4 players stood out: Iker, Cristiano, Oezil and Coentrao. Oezil, for me, was the man of the match. His work-rate was phenomenal, so was his pass to Cristiano for the goal.

                                                                                   "Take that!", says Oezil

Cristiano scored and then celebrated epically. In his celebration, from my interpretation, he was probably trying to say: “Calm down, it’s me who’s scored it – that’s nothing new.” He has silenced all his critics who say he doesn’t perform in big games.

                                                             “Calm down, it's me who's scored it - that's nothing new."

In fact, Messi has now failed to score in the last 4 Clasicos, Cris 4 goals in last 5. So much for ‘Messi is a big-game player, but Cristiano isn’t’.

Coentrao was awesome. He totally shut down Dani Alves. His performance becomes even sweeter considering how horrid he was against Bayern. He totally shut his critics’ mouths with his performance last night.

About Iker Casillas’ performance, two words: San Iker. That is all.

                                                                                           The two captains

Conclusion

Real played without fear. Real overcame their psychological barrier against Barca – Real’s goal right after Barca scored was a testament to that given that they have crumbled against Barca in the past even after scoring first.

If Barca had won last night, they would have equaled Real’s win tally in the Clasicos – something that hasn’t happened in 81 years. Real players played their hearts out and saved that from happening.

With this win, Real now need just 2 more wins to officially win the league. Also, Real play Bayern with more confidence. Basically, this win sets up a step for Real to go and win all that is for them to win in this season. As a Madridista, I hope we do it.

                                                                                             Fans celebrating