When looking at a game as big as El Clasico I believe it is important to sleep on the result before firing out an article. In a way last nights El Clasico was unique as Barcelona didn’t have much to lose – granted they would prefer to have a 13 point advantage over Real than a 7 point advantage but they are still favourites for this La Liga title. Clasico’s are usually decided in split-second decisions on both sides. There were plenty of decisions made last night that ultimately determined the outcome.
Barcelona had taken the lead through a Gerard Pique header with 55 minutes played. However Madrid’s quick counter attacks had the Barcelona defence under pressure. One such counter-attack culminated in a Toni Kroos pass flicking up off the heel of Jordi Alba which looped over the rising Pique into the path of Karim Benzema who beat Claudio Bravo from close range. Despite being reduced to ten men Cristiano Ronaldo scored from a Bale cross to secure all three points for the visitors.
The referee last night was 33 year-old Hernández Hernández who took charge of his first Clasico. Unfortunately for Hernández the occasion got the better of him and he and his linesmen made some questionable decisions for both sides.Madrid center-back Sergio Ramos was lucky not to be sent off in the first-half or early in the second. A string of bad tackles were waved away by Hernández and when Ramos was finally given his marching orders in the 82nd minute it was too late from Hernández. His linesmen also made a number of offside calls for both sides that on replay appeared to be onside. His linesman also ruled out a Bale goal as the Welshman was deemed to have pushed Jordi Alba – a soft call.He is a young referee but it has to be questioned how the biggest game in world football – which has a reputation for requiring strong officiating was given to such an inexperienced referee.
Zinedine Zidane became the first Real Madrid manager to win his debut El Clasico since Bernd Schuster (Dec ’07). He didn’t follow Rafa Benitez’s idea of starting all the big name players leaving Isco and James Rodriguez on the bench last night and opted for a 4-3-3 with Casemiro anchoring the midfield. This decision was effective as the Brazilian sat back and protected his center-backs. Zidane played counter-attacking football last night with as many as eight men back in defence last night but Madrid’s trademark fast counters provided the necessary goals to seal a Clasico win for Zidane.
Last nights defeat ended a 39-match unbeaten streak for Barcelona but will be incredibly useful for coach Luis Enrique. Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic played his heart out last night and met all the requirements of a box-to-box midfielder. He was clearly exhausted when substituted with 73 minutes played. Enrique made a crucial mistake. He replaced a workhorse with a purely attacking player in the form of Arda Turan. Turan does not and didn’t track back and battle for the ball like Rakitic does. This loss of a defender when out of possession cost Enrique’s side dearly. Sergi Roberto started the Clasico in November and put on an incredibly display providing an assist for Luis Suarez. Enrique now knows Roberto is the understudy for Rakitic now Arda. Turan is struggling to settle at club and so far the Turk doesn’t seem to fit Barcelona’s style of play.
This result is definitely a turning point for both clubs. La Liga is now a little bit more open but a six point lead at the top is still quite comfortable for Barca.Last night’s loss ended a run of 39 games unbeaten for Barcelona but is necessary for the Catalan side. They were made out to be invincible and last night’s result shows these players they are far from perfect. Enrique’s side want to regain last season’s treble and this reality check could reignite the Barcelona engine similar to a loss away to Real Sociedad which lead to Barca’s treble last year. For Real this is a positive result for Zidane’s men. While a La Liga title is highly unlikely Zidane can focus on the Champions League. Last nights result will probably secure his spot as Madrid coach for next season as club president Florentino Perez places huge emphasis on Clasico results.
Last night was very unusual. Barcelona seemed to drop off in the second half and invited Real to pour pressure on the their defence. The trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar were not on form with Suarez missing a sitter in the first-half. Some will blame international duty while others may point to the upcoming Champions League tie away to Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid didn’t play with their usual galáctico style but did enough to earn a vital victory.