Monday, March 23, 2015

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: Tactical Review of 2015 El Clasico

Barcelona extended their lead at the top of La Liga to four points on Sunday by winning the first Clasico of 2015 against Real Madrid. Jeremy Mathieu and Luis Suarez struck either side of a Cristiano Ronaldo goal to give la Blaugrana a timely boost at a key stage of the season.

Formations and XIs
Barcelona played a 4-3-3 as expected, with Javier Mascherano starting as an anchor due to Sergio Busquets only being fit enough for the bench. The Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez trio continued up front, and Jeremy Mathieu started in central defence alongside Gerard Pique. Claudio Bravo resumed duties in goal.
Real Madrid played a fluid 4-3-3/4-4-2, with Cristiano Ronaldo straddling a left-wing/striker role, Gareth Bale playing slightly deeper on the right and Isco partnering Toni Kroos in central midfield.

1. Marcelo Epitomises Madrid's Attacking Energy
Marcelo has been a little hesitant to venture forward in La Liga of late, so it was a (pleasant) surprise to see him willing and able to bomb forward in the Clasico. His energy and appetite for attacking epitomised Real Madrid's strong first half.
He would either dance forward as a true wide player or overlap and be found by a pass from central midfield; either way, he was central to all things quick and potent early on. Both of Madrid's most threatening attacks in the first period were down the left side, and rather than sit cautiously and try to care for Messi's presence on his flank, Marcelo opted to take advantage of the fact he wasn't being tracked.
Credit: beINSport
With Ivan Rakitic a little slow to get over and mark him, Dani Alves was frequently exposed in these stages. Karim Benzema's immense movement into the channels then became a real threat, and with the Frenchman joining Marcelo in overloading that side, Barca's defence was forced to shuffle over and fall out of position.
The hosts took the lead through a brilliant Mathieu header, but los Blancos, on balance, were by far the better side across the first 45 minutes.

2. Ronaldo's Equaliser
Ronaldo scored the equaliser, but Real Madrid's goal on the night was all about the build-up play. It's deserving of great commendation, and adds another string to the bow supporting Benzema as a world-class talent.
With Modric creeping forward with the ball and Benzema spotting Mathieu in a wide position (dragged out to start closing Bale down), the Frenchman darted right to take Pique with him and opened a huge gap in the centre of defence. Ronaldo saw it and filled it, and Benzema's sumptuous flick found him for a first-time finish.
Credit: beINSport
Jaw-dropping stuff from the striker.
His movement into the channels and in dragging defenders around throughout the first half was absolutely stunning, and this was the validation of his play; his piece de resistance.

3. Direct Barcelona
The opening 10 minutes of the second half were a little scrappy, then suddenly Suarez, like a bolt from the blue, made one run, that was picked out by one Alves pass, and gave Barcelona the lead.
It was symptomatic of the "new"(ish) Barcelona we've been treated to this season. They're still a 4-3-3 passing side, but they move the ball from back to front much, much quicker and Suarez latching on to a defender's long ball has been a theme for success.
Credit: beINSport
The Uruguayan took advantage of a ropey-looking defensive line, controlled Alves' brilliant pass with one magnificent, god-like touch and slotted home in trademark fashion. It wasn't the first time he's scored "that" goal this season, and it won't be the last.
Luis Enrique has focused on getting the ball out of the centre-backs' feet and into Ivan Rakitic, who can turn and supply the front three within seconds. The Croatian's excellence at this is why Xavi has been marginalised, and he's the embodiment of the tactical nuance that's given la Blaugrana an edge this year.

4. Disconnect
"We didn't play like a team," Modric stated to reporters after the game (h/t Inside Spanish Football). He's absolutely hit the nail on the head. First half for los Blancos? Great. But the second? A shambolic mess.
Once Barcelona had gone 2-1 up, Real Madrid's front three stopped pressing and harassing the opponents, devoting themselves solely to attacking as they were in need of a goal. They stood high up the pitch and waited for the ball to be passed to them, but it never actually came.
Credit: beINSport
Barca began pushing forward and finding themselves free to pick their passes, approaching Madrid's midfield line without any pressure from the forwards. It naturally dragged the away side's midfield contingent forward in order to engage, opening huge holes in between themselves and the defence for Enrique's front three to exploit.
All of a sudden, with Messi drifting centrally and exploiting the space behind Toni Kroos and Modric, one simple pass between the lines was enough to set the hosts away on a barreling attack. Several were carved out, and only poor decision-making and profligacy from all three—and in particular Neymar—stopped them from making the score looking more convincing.

Quickfire Conclusions
  • Bale was essentially absent again. Last week he bagged a brace and cupped his hands to his ears, but this was more like the norm for the Welshman who has been very quiet of late.
  • Benzema and Marcelo, in addition to perhaps Modric, were Real Madrid's outfield players, and Iker Casillas showed the world he hasn't declined quite as sharply as some want to suggest.
  • In the first half Madrid were superb, in the second Barca were. Neither could string together a full 90 minutes of good play.
  • As ever, yellow cards provided a predictable backdrop to the game, but some of the play-acting and needless involvements in scuffles (we're looking at you, Jordi Alba) were disappointing to see.


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