The Germans and the Spaniards…the strongest nations in the World of football.
Perhaps the most striking element of this drift towards a Germano-Iberian duopoly is the feeling not of opposed and contrasting superpowers, but of convergence and consensus, of a fraternal similarity. If Germany and Spain are streets ahead when it comes to player development and tactical coherence, they appear to have skipped off around the corner more or less hand-in-hand.
Get well soon Sami! Everybody loves u♥
Match date: 26 October 2013
The first El Clasico for both Tata Martino and Carlo Ancelotti as managers at their respective clubs. It certainly proved to be a different type of match than viewers have grown accustomed to over the past few years with Barcelona under Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho, but a good match nonetheless.
Both managers made interesting tactical decisions in their starting XI. Ancelotti opted to play Gareth Bale rather than Karim Benzema as part of Madrid’s attacking three with the Welsh international playing through the middle for much of the match. Ancelotti also called on Sergio Ramos to play in a holding midfield position rather than at centre back despite Pepe having played the holding midfield role in previous El Clasicos under Jose Mourinho.
Tata Martino also made some interesting decisions, starting Messi on the right side of Barcelona’s attacking three with Neymar on the left and Cesc Fabregas through the middle. He also swapped Pique and Mascherano, putting the Argentine on the right so that he could match up against Ronaldo.
Barcelona’s Front Three
Under Guardiola, Messi started as an excellent player on the right side of Barcelona’s attacking three and soon became the world’s best player as a false 9. When he took over, Martino said that not a lot would change for Barcelona under his reign, however, things are certainly different. Barcelona have started to concede possession and actually had less possession than one their opponents against Rayo Vallecano just a few weeks ago for the first time in years. Martino’s Barcelona are playing a more direct brand of football and Messi now plays on the right a bit more often as we saw against Madrid.
Messi and Fabregas switched positions a good amount throughout the match which made it hard for Sergio Ramos, playing as the holding midfielder, to pick up anyone. At times both Fabregas and Messi would be deep in midfield, allowing Barcelona to dominate possession easily in midfield and make it so that Madrid’s centre backs weren’t picking anyone up.
You can see below that Messi is tucked inside, Modric can’t press Xavi because then Messi will be free to receive and turn and Ramos is leaving both Messi and Fabregas unmarked, with the centre backs waiting for Fabregas’ run to come.
And it did come, but as we saw throughout much of the match, when Messi drifted inside, Fabregas would take up the position on the right side of the attacking three and occupy Marcelo, which happened just a few seconds after the above screenshot. Again, this left the centre backs and Sergio Ramos free.
Both Fabregas and Messi provided Xavi, who completed 82 passes, about 30 more than any other player on the pitch, with good options to make vertical passes as Martino’s side looked to play more direct. Messi was generally in a pocket of space on the right that allowed him to receive the ball in a one on one situation with Marcelo, while Fabregas floated between Madrid’s centre backs and Ramos.
There were plenty of one on one opportunities for both Neymar and Messi in the wide areas as well, with both being able to run in behind Madrid’s back line on numerous occasions with Barcelona looking to penetrate from deeper positions under Martino than they have in years past. Messi had a very good chance presented to him by Iniesta after the Argentine got in behind Marcelo with relative ease. Marcelo simply seemed to stop despite Messi running, perhaps because of the expectation that Messi would either cut across to Madrid’s centre backs or that Iniesta would opt to retain possession rather than play a high risk ball.
While Messi and Fabregas were fluid in their movement, Neymar was strictly a left winger and found himself in one on one situations with Daniel Carvajal on numerous occasions. A consistent out ball for Barcelona, however, wasn’t necessarily playing the ball to Neymar’s feet on the left, but rather a diagonal ball to Neymar either on the flank or in behind Madrid’s back line.
Ramos and Illarramendi Substitution
With the fluid movement of Messi and Fabregas, Ramos looked rather confused as to what to do in his role. He didn’t press onto either Iniesta or Xavi, who were usually followed by Khedira and Modric, respectively, if at all and he was fairly poor in breaking up Barcelona’s play in midfield, failing to even attempt a tackle. On the attacking side, Ramos did not get involved in build up play too often and his didn’t look to attempt many penetrative passes despite being relatively unmarked and in a side consisting of Ronaldo, Bale, and Di Maria.
In the 56th minute, Ancelotti replaced Ramos with Illarramendi and the summer signing was certainly a more capable player in the holding role. His passes forward were much more often and much quicker than Ramos’ and it lifted the Real Madrid side as they got the ball in better positions much more frequently.
In the 70th minute, Martino brought on Sanchez for Fabregas a move that, in the end, won the game for Barcelona. Perhaps seeing all the opportunities to get in behind Real Madrid’s back four, and with Cesc lacking the pace that Sanchez has, Martino decided to bring on the Chilean and put more pressure directly on the Madrid centre backs. In his post match press conference, Martino talked about how Real Madrid forced his side too far back in the first 20 minutes of the second half and the Sanchez changed certainly look to pin back Real a bit more. It worked to good effect as well as it stretched the game a bit more for Barcelona, noticeable in Sanchez’s goal, which came only after Alex Song was brought on to allow Barcelona to regain control of the match with a double pivot in front of the back four.
Prior to Song’s introduction, Benzema was free to pick up the ball behind Busquets, in front of the back four and the Frenchman rattled the crossbar with a good effort from outside the Barcelona penalty area. With Song on the pitch though, Barcelona were able to regain control of the match which had been dictated by Real Madrid for 15 to 20 minutes before Song’s arrival.
It is certainly different seeing Barcelona not dominate possession of the ball and to play a more direct style of play, but it seemed to catch Madrid out on numerous occasions and Martino’s tactical changes throughout the match helped Barcelona win the match without having proactive spells of possession as they would have under Guardiola and Vilanova.
Real Madrid seem to be adapting much slower to Carlo Ancelotti than Barcelona have to Martino, but as the Barcelona man said, “The six points accounts more emotionally than mathematically. There’s 60% of La Liga left to play. Real Madrid and Atleti are so close, they can close the gap.”
Pique and cesc are so in love with this man (and so is Xavi)
Barcelona fans: Our line up sucks
Real Madrid fans: Our line up sucks
Sid Lowe discusses el Clásico.
He talks a little bit about Neymar/Bale, Messi/ Ronaldo. I love how at the end he says they cannot exist without each other. They need each other to be at the top with them to be who they are. I always loved that about this rivalry more than anything else.